Letting God Prevail over Politics
An online forum asked Church members if the Church endorsed Republicans or Democrats. One member's highly-voted answer essentially said:
The Church stays out of politics. But when you look at our faith's teachings about family values, sexual morality, drugs, and self-reliance, it's no surprise that, in my experience, most Church members are Republicans like me.
Another highly voted answer showed a different perspective. Something like:
The Church stays out of politics. But when you look at our faith's teachings about the freedom to choose, equality, and generous welfare programs, it's no surprise that in my experience, most Church members are Democrats like me.
These two members obviously had very different experiences with politics and the Gospel. But they both highlight critical principles about the intersection of faith and politics that we need to learn and apply if our country and our Church membership are to remain intact.
Principle #1: The Church is not political
Every election season, the Church releases a public statement of political neutrality. And every election season, many members seem to ignore it. Some try to squint at the words and say, "Well yeah officially for tax purposes we're neutral, but the Gospel clearly fits my political ideology." Sometimes, it is tempting to even "wrest the scriptures" to make them fit your own political point of view. Take for example, the question of the appropriate role of government in redistributing wealth and welfare:
Members who are generally supportive of broad government redistribution programs cite D&C 49:20 where the Lord says, "It is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin." They cite Mosiah 4, Alma 1, Alma 4, Alma 5, Alma 35, Helaman 4, Helaman 6, the Sermon on the Mount, and scores of other verses which all command us to impart liberally to the poor. They cite the paradisiacal state of the people of Enoch and the Nephites who eventually had "no poor among them." They uphold the law of consecration as the ideal to strive for.
On the other hand, members who are generally opposed to broad government redistribution programs cite D&C 42:42 where the Lord says, "He that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer." They cite Luke 11, 1 Nephi 17, Mosiah 2, Mosiah 7, and Ether 10 which all decry exorbitant taxes "grievous to be borne." They cite Mosiah 4 which tells those "who have not and yet have sufficient" to be content and not to" covet that which [they] have not received." They cite Church manuals and General Conference talks which decry communism and socialism. They point out that the law of consecration is an individual's decision and not government compulsion.
People tend to find whatever they are looking for. If we go to the scriptures looking for a confirmation of our political opinions, we can come away with dozens of verses that seemingly support our views. If we are determined, we can twist out divine decrees about welfare tax rates, the electoral college, foreign policy, immigration, drugs, and everything in between.
Please, stop it. The Church doesn't claim political neutrality solely to follow tax laws, avoid contention, or placate members who "aren't ready to receive" the full truth. God is bigger than any political party. As Pres. Oaks taught:
Those who govern their thoughts and actions solely by the principles of liberalism or conservatism or intellectualism cannot be expected to agree with all of the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As for me, I find some wisdom in liberalism, some wisdom in conservatism, and much truth in intellectualism– but I find no salvation in any of them.
So please, while it is good and healthy to have debate and political discussion, don't cherry-pick scripture to back up your political opinions. Let God prevail over politics by not inferring a position where the Church has taken none.
Principle #2: You should be political
I hear from many members of the Church that because politics is so fraught and because they don't want to rock the boat, they just stay out of politics entirely. Honestly, I get that. I feel that way myself very frequently. But the Lord has a different take. He doesn't want us to put our heads in the sand and let popular opinion dictate our lives and shape our country without raising our "warning voice." All throughout the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord commanded His Saints to take a stance and address grievances. The same counsel applies today. Again, from another great Pres. Oaks talk:
We should be knowledgeable citizens who are active in making our influence felt in civic affairs… by running for office (which we encourage), by voting, by financial support, by membership and service in political parties, and by ongoing communications to officials, parties, and candidates.
I know the news is depressing. I know it feels on both sides like the other side is just inhuman and unbearable. But please, get active, get involved, and change that. If you have deep beliefs over political topics– especially where they coincide with important moral issues– "defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them!"
Let God prevail over politics by not hiding from politics– get involved!
Principle #3: The Church is ideologically diverse (and that's a good thing!)
The answers from the online forum I mentioned earlier remind me of a film critic several decades back. Shocked by the loss of his favored presidential candidate, he reportedly remarked, "I can't believe he won! I don't know a single person who voted for him!" He had become so ensconced in his insular political bubble that he was completely ignorant of the majority of Americans and their political opinions.
Like the film critic, we primarily interact on a day-to-day basis with Church members of our own wards and stakes. Our local area may very well lean heavily to one side of the political aisle or the other. And even within those local areas, we primarily interact with friends in our own demographics who share our same interests and likely our same political leanings. Like the film critic, we tend to live in ideological bubbles.
This is not itself a bad thing, but in recent years, the surfaces of our ideological bubbles have grown ever thicker until they have become the steel walls of an echo chamber. This causes us to sometimes use our own experiences with Church members in our bubble to define Church membership as a whole.
This extrapolation is unwarranted. Never assume that just because your Church bubble leans to the right or the left, the Church or the Brethren or the Lord must lean in that direction, too. Your brothers and sisters in the Gospel are likely more ideologically diverse than you think.
And that's a good thing! Liberals, Conservatives, Libertarians, and everything in between, the Church needs your voice. And the Church needs the voice of the brother or sister sitting in the next pew who vehemently disagrees with every single one of your political opinions. Don't make the mistake of assuming that because someone disagrees with you politically that they are somehow less righteous or less faithful than you. As Pres. Oaks taught again:
We encourage our members to refrain from judging one another in political matters. We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate.
Let God prevail over politics by not assuming your brothers and sisters believe a certain way
Principle #4: The Gospel is big enough for virtually all political parties
Let's be clear: the first member's answer above is statistically more correct than the second one. Polls show that 3 out of every 4 US Church members lean Republican, making us the most Conservative major faith in the country. This Conservative lean has unfortunately led some to say that you can't really be a good member of the Church if you're a Democrat.
This notion is 100% false. To Republicans today who say you can't be a "good" member of the Church if you're a Democrat, I would remind you of a time not too long ago when the shoe was on the other foot.
In the Church's own recently published history, Saints, Volume 2, we read that in 1891, there was political turmoil in the Church (much like today). But at that time, "the prevailing attitude was that a good Latter-day Saint could never be a Republican." It was Republican Church members faced ridicule and accusations of wavering loyalty.
Church leaders tried to teach the Saints of 130 years ago that "they could differ politically without creating bitterness or division within the Church… The Church needed members in both political parties." Pres. Woodruff in General Conference condemned the political holier-than-thou attitude with sermons just as applicable today as they were 130 years ago:
Every man has as much right– prophets, apostles, saints, and sinners– to his political convictions as he has to his religious opinions… Don't throw filth and dirt and nonsense at one another because of any difference on political matters… That spirit will lead us to ruin.
Even in cases where a certain party or a certain candidate actively opposes core Gospel doctrines, we are not justified in judging and blanket statements like "no good member can be a ____." Pinching your nose is a real thing– we _often vote for a candidate who holds policies we don't agree with or whose character we find repulsive. And we don't need to demonize the other side by insinuating that a brother or sister must necessarily support the worst aspects of their candidate. As Pres. Oaks taught, "Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various [many] political parties." Yet no one party is "right":
There are many political issues, and no party, platform, or individual candidate can satisfy all personal preferences…. [These circumstances] sometimes require voters to support candidates or political parties or platforms whose other positions they cannot approve. That is one reason we encourage our members to refrain from judging one another in political matters. We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate (link).
The first respondent to the online forum rightly points out the truth that Conservatives find their political and social opinions about family and individual liberty fit very well within the framework of the Gospel. But don't forget that liberals also find that their political and social opinions about charity and the sanctity of Creation fit within the Gospel framework, too. There is something in the Gospel of Jesus Christ for everyone. No one needs to give up their tax or immigration policies to belong to this Church. As Pres. Hinckley taught, our invitation is to "bring with you all the good that you have, and then let us see if we can add to it." The Gospel is big enough for virtually all political parties.
Let God prevail over politics by learning to admire points on the other side that fit within the Gospel framework.
Principle #5: The Gospel will contradict some political positions
Sometimes, and with increased frequency, our faith and politics may come into conflict. Critics often accuse the Church of stepping outside its domain by intruding into political issues. In reality, it is not the Church that is increasingly intruding on political issues– it is politics that is stepping outside its domain and intruding on moral issues. And when political or social movements advocate a moral position that is contrary to Church teachings, "[Church leaders] have both the right and the obligation to raise a warning voice" (Pres. Packer).
Don't be surprised when the Lord's servants fulfill that divine command and speak out on issues– even the issues you may not expect. Modern prophets all through this dispensation have echoed the teachings of Pres. Benson, affirming that Prophets "can receive revelation on any matter–temporal or spiritual," may "speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time," including "civic matters," and do not need to preface their words with "thus saith the Lord" to give us scripture.
We are led by prophets, seers, and revelators inspired by God. They are not perfect, but there is "no error in the revelations" they teach. Yet even with modern revelation, we know that God continually reveals new instructions and sometimes even "redirects us."
In contrast to the Church, no political party today is led by divine revelation. They are led by mortals and prone to adopting some measure of the philosophies of men. Although the Gospel is big enough for almost every political party, we know the Gospel will contradict some political positions.
I will illustrate with a few examples relevant to ongoing topics today. I know what I'm about to say will likely upset some of my readers. Know that I "speak boldly, hoping to edify and not to offend" (and if I do offend, at least I'm an "equal opportunity offender" and irritate members on both sides of the political aisle 😉).
Some left-leaning positions are incompatible with the Gospel
First, I will address my brothers and sisters on the left side of the aisle (Conservatives, you're next, so stay tuned).
Moral psychology shows that liberals/progressives are motivated by many moral ideals. But among most liberals, the principles of fairness, protection, caring, compassion, and equality generally carry a more significant weight in their policy choices (source). These are important virtues sorely needed in today's society. Liberals/progressives play an important part in making sure the voices of minority and underprivileged groups are represented in the forum of public debate. Many of my favorite leaders in the Church are ardent Democrats, as are many of my friends both inside and out of the Church today. They are some of the best people I know. Though I am not a liberal myself, I hope to emulate the wonderful qualities I admire in my liberal friends.
That said, there are some major social planks of the official Democratic Party platform that are simply incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
Expanding abortion is a key priority in the Democratic platform. It is the law of the land, and is not likely to go away anytime soon. But make no mistake: the Prophet and the Savior are unequivocally opposed to elective abortion. As members, "our commitment to God’s plan requires us to oppose abortion," too.
Gay marriage is also the law of the land. But the Supreme Court is not God. "Man's laws cannot make moral what God has declared immoral." While we honor and obey the law, "laws legalizing so-called 'same-sex marriage' do not change God’s law of marriage or His commandments and our standards concerning it" (link).
Transgenderism is a more recent topic. Out of compassion for those who feel "wrong" in their own bodies, many on the left promote the idea that men and women are interchangeable. While this may seem the sensitive position to take, it flies in the face of divine truth: "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." God makes no mistakes in our creation, and compassion need not require us to lie.
These are just a few topics. Others include drug legalization, limiting religious liberty, and physician-assisted suicide. On each of these topics, the Church has repeatedly released public statements opposing the left-leaning position. These statements are not merely "a personal, though well-considered, opinion;" they are the official position of the Savior and the Church whose name it bears, and we are under solemn obligation to heed them.
But, please know that if you find it hard to accept Church teachings and policies regarding these sensitive topics, that's okay. When the Lord gives us a trial, He does not expect us to understand it right away or respond with unbridled enthusiasm. He doesn't expect it to even "feel right" to us at first. Some teachings we will come to understand through study and obedience. Others we may never fully understand in this life. Heaven knows I have a whole shelf full of questions and concerns I plan to raise with the Lord when I get the chance.
However, not fully understanding or feeling "right" about a teaching of the Lord does not give us a license to ignore or reject that teaching. Remember that Nephi called the words of Christ a feast– not a buffet. Disciples of the Savior do not pick and choose which aspects of His Gospel they will accept and which they will toss aside. They gratefully accept and internalize each course of the feast.
Unfortunately, some of our left-leaning brothers and sisters go even beyond quietly passing on the potatoes. Some members publicly advocate for practices and policies that directly oppose the core tenets of the Gospel. They promote the legalization and practice of abortion, deny the doctrines of the plan of salvation regarding gender and sexuality, and push for the legalization of hard drugs. These members let politics triumph over faith and call on the Church to change its stance and "get with the times."
Let's be clear– advocating these positions is a violation of sacred covenants and is disqualifying for a Temple recommend. Members who push for these liberal social positions in the Church claim to live the Gospel while they actively fight against it.
Again, many liberal moral values are important in society and the Church. Liberal movements in past decades have brought about much good in society, and we thank them for taking up the stand. We need liberal voices in the Church. But in the case of liberal moral stances that contradict Gospel teachings, we must let God prevail over our politics.
Some right-leaning positions are incompatible with the Gospel
Moral psychology shows that conservatives/libertarians are motivated by the same moral ideals as their liberal brothers and sisters. But among most Conservatives, the principles or protection and compassion are generally weighted the same as other principles like law and order or individual liberty (source). Like liberal values, Conservative values are important and sorely needed in today's society, and Conservatives play an important part in making sure that government is kept in check and individual rights are kept safe. Many of my favorite leaders in the Church are staunch Conservatives, as are many of my friends both inside and out of the Church today. They are some of the best people I know. As a fellow Conservative, I strive to emulate these wonderful qualities.
The social planks of the official Republican Party platform are generally more compatible with Gospel truths than corresponding Democratic positions are. But let's be clear: that does not make Conservatives morally superior, nor does it exempt us from the same warnings. Although the official platform of the Republican Party may fall largely in line, I've observed that many stances taken by my fellow Conservatives individually that do oppose Church positions:
Some members advocate for a hardline stance on abortion beyond what is supportable from a Church standpoint. While the Church makes room for "exception cases" like the life of the mother, unsurvivable birth defects, and rape, some members advocate for blanket prohibition regardless of extenuating circumstances.
Some members ignore statements from the First Presidency urging members to immunize our children from life-threatening diseases (so-called "anti-vaxxers"). Some accept childhood vaccines, yet turn down the COVID-19 vaccine for themselves despite pleas from Church leaders for all member to receive it.
Some reject the Church's stance against forced separation of immigrant families and pathways to residency or adopt an all-or-nothing hardliner immigration stance that the Church has come out against.
Some maintain extreme isolationist and closed borders policies that would turn away refugees even though Church leaders have repeatedly encouraged us to welcome and serve our refugee brothers and sisters.
When the Fairness For All bill was put forth, binding LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws with religious freedom provisions, some members opposed it, unwilling to find a compromise with "the other side" despite repeated, strong, official endorsement by the Church.
Right now, many areas of the Church require members to wear masks in Church meetings, yet many Conservative members, would rather choose to deny themselves the blessings of partaking the Sacrament with the Saints.
You might be getting defensive at this point, saying "Yeah I won't wear a mask or get the vaccine, but that's a very minor thing compared to believing men can become women." Maybe you're right and it is a "small thing" by comparison. But if we Conservatives are tripping over "small" stumbling blocks like a piece of fabric or getting a shot in the arm, we have no leg to stand on when criticizing others on the "big things."
Whether or not you struggle with any of these issues, I ask you, fellow Conservatives, to have a renewed and deepened compassion for your liberal brothers and sisters. You and I are only getting a small taste of the struggle they go through that tear at the fabric of their souls. Christ has asked us vaccinate and strap on a mask. He has asked them to put aside their deeply held personal feelings of what is morally right and compassionate.
So please, while we must call out evil when we see it without compromise, we also can certainly be civil and compassionate with those on the left– even those who we think choose the world instead of the Lord on certain issues.
Conservatives, Liberals, and everything in between, let God prevail over politics by recognizing where your politics is at odds with revelation and Church positions.
Principle #6: Face the conflict, make the sacrifice
Once we recognize that the Gospel contradicts some of our deeply held political positions, what should we do? The Lord is clear on this matter: "When the Prophet speaks, the debate is over." When our political persuasions come into conflict with the teachings or policies of the Church, we have a solemn obligation let God prevail over our political leanings. As then-Elder Russell M Nelson demonstrated, we must adopt an attitude of gratitude for further revelation:
Once you stop putting question marks behind the prophet's statements and put exclamation points instead, and do it, the blessings just pour.
I never ask myself, "When does the prophet speak as a prophet and when does he not?" My interest has been, "How can I be more like him?"
Choosing to let our faith shine brighter than our political opinions is no easy task. It may require us to stand up to those on our own "side" and be the contrary voice among friends. In some cases, our point of disagreement with our own side "may require changing party support or candidate choices, even from election to election." As Dumbledore said, "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends." Our loyalty to the Savior and His Church must take precedence.
Please note that when we struggle with these conflicts between our faith and our politics, Christ does not ask us to pretend there is no conflict. Nor does He require us to pretend that it is easy. While we must not advocate our contrary political leanings, we may certainly be open and genuine about our struggles with sincere political/social opinions. Our examples of faith in the face of competing concerns can be a great support to others who are struggling with similar trials. Allow me to share one of my own:
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am highly critical of masks and government mask mandates. Like many Conservatives, I resent those "face diapers" on many levels, including on a political level. I have modified my lifestyle to avoid almost any situation where I have to wear one. When my ward re-opened for in-person meetings, I was frustrated to hear that we would be required to wear masks in the building. I grumbled to my wife that I would just continue worshipping from home until the mask requirement was gone.
A few days after the mask policy was announced, I was prompted to reflect on Christ's words to Peter after His resurrection. When the Savior found his senior Apostle fishing the sea instead of fishing for men, He plaintively asked Peter, "What are you doing fishing? Who do you love more– Me? Or these fish? Do you not love Me more than you love your career? Do you not love being My disciple more than you love being what you were before?"
It was a hard blow. I could almost hear The Savior asking me what He asked Peter: "Matthew, who do you love more– Me? Or your position on masks?"
The Lord asked Abraham to give up his son. The Lord asked His original disciples to give up their careers and their lives. The Lord asked His Saints earlier in this dispensation to give up their jobs, their homes, their social standing, their monogamy, and their freedom, then to settle a barren desert. Today, the Lord asks you and me to put a piece of cloth on our mouth for an hour or two each week.
For many on the Conservative side of the aisle, this mask situation is possibly the first time your political or social opinion has come into conflict with the policies of the Church. Fortunately, this conflict is relatively minor and hopefully temporary. Yet I have seen far too many of my fellow Conservative Church members let their political opinions about masks outweigh their faith and keep them from worshipping with their fellow Saints.
I attended Church in person the first week it opened, and I have attended every week since. I repented, and I invite you to repent, too. Masks are annoying, but our faith is worth it.
Let God prevail by sacrificing your contrary political opinions for your faith.