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 likely more ideologically diverse than you think
The answers of both Church members from the opposing political parties 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.
Principle #2: 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.
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.
Principle #3: 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.
Principle #4: Let God prevail over your politics
So what do we do when the Gospel contradicts some of our deeply held political positions? The Lord is clear on this matter: when our political persuasions come into conflict with the teachings or policies of the Church, we have a solemn obligation let God prevail. We must let our politics take a back seat to our faith.
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 😉).
How members on the left must let God prevail
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 many planks of the Democratic platform that are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Abortion, gay marriage, gender malleability, drug legalization, and religious freedom restrictions, just to name a few. On each of these topics, the Church has repeatedly released public statements affirming the official position of the Church and the Savior whose name it bears. These statements are not merely “a personal, though well-considered, opinion;” they are the word of the Lord to us, and we are under a solemn obligation to heed them.
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.
How members on the right must let God prevail
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.
Most planks of the Republican Party on social issues are generally more compatible with Gospel truths than the liberal positions are. But let’s be clear: that does not make Conservatives morally superior, nor does it exempt us from the same warnings. Before you judge your liberal brothers and sisters in the Gospel, put yourself in their shoes for a moment: imagine the struggle you would experience if you were asked to choose between your political/social moral compass and the Church. How would you respond if Church teachings and policies flew in the face of your closely-held political and social values? Before you jump up and say you would be valiant no matter what, take a moment and reflect on how you have responded to a minor conflict.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am critical of masks and 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.
Finally, fellow Conservatives, if you struggled with Church mask requirements, I ask you 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 every single day. While we struggle with a relatively small (and hopefully temporary) conflict between our opinions and our faith, many liberal members have struggled with multiple conflicts about major eternal issues every single day. While Christ has asked us to strap on a mask, He has been 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.
Letting God prevail
Political diversity in the Church is important and wonderful. But “when the Prophet speaks, the debate is over.” We must resolve the conflict between our opinions and our faith in favor of our faith. 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?”
But remember, 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. Share your experience of faith.