Friday, March 30, 2012

The Politics of Mormonism

Terrible pic, but what can you do?
I was asked to speak at Penn Law School yesterday at an event hosted by the Christian Legal Society entitled, "Who are the Mormons?"

I have included what I said below:

I will summarize what it means to me to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a Latter-day Saint woman, and use this as a framework to address the intersection of my faith and politics.  

1) I can summarize my faith with one simple statement: I believe in miracles.

I believe in the ancient miracles of the Bible just as I believe in the modern day miracles of today.  For instance,

a.             Scripture. I believe that God inscribed tablets of stone and gave them to Moses on Mount Sinai.  I also believe that God’s word was inscribed on golden plates that he then “gave” to Joseph Smith by means of an angel on a hill in upstate New York in the early 1800s. 

b.             Young Prophets. I believe that God spoke to a boy named Samuel and called him to be a prophet when he was ten years old.  Similarly, I believe that God spoke to a boy named Joseph Smith and called him to be a prophet when he was about 14 years old.

c.             I believe that on the day of Pentecost, thousands of baptized Christians were given the gift of the Holy Ghost. I was also given the gift of the Holy Ghost at age eight in October of 1987 after my baptism when my father placed his hands on my head and commanded that I receive it.

d.             Most importantly, I believe that the tomb was empty on resurrection morning over 2,000 years ago, and that this miracle enables me through His grace to repent and become more like Christ today.

I believe in modern-day miracles because I have read and studied those of the ancient church.  I know that if they could happen then, if God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then they can most certainly happen today.  

2) Now, on being a Latter-day Saint woman.

As a Latter-day Saint woman, I believe in the teachings of my faith on the family.  This means I believe that the most important work I can do is in the home.  I believe I have a divine calling to be a mother and to take on the primary responsibility of nurturing my children as soon as my husband and I are blessed with them.

I have also been challenged by a modern-day prophet to get all the education I can and to qualify myself for the work of the world.  Another prophet has told me that I as a woman have many songs to sing in my life, but that I cannot sing them all at the same time.  I have taken this to heart. 

Knowing all of this has caused me since a teen to labor in prayer over my professional goals and my deep desire to be a wife and mother and be obedient to the direction of ancient and modern-day prophets.  I have sought, to the best of my ability, to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost in making decisions and accepting realities. 

In making some of these decisions, including spending stretches of time on the opposite side of an ocean from my husband to pursue further education--which I did when starting my doctorate here at Penn and my masters at Oxford--I cannot recall ever being compelled by a priesthood leader, including my husband or father, to do anything other than what I and my husband felt  I should.  This I believe in conformity with the teachings of Joseph Smith, who said that he taught the people correct principles and then let them govern themselves

3)            What does all of this mean for politics?

What does LDS theology have to say about politics, generally?

Not much.  Perhaps learning from experience of early persecution, the Church today maintains an official and rather strict policy of neutrality when it comes to politics.  We often have letters read over the pulpit from the prophet and First Presidency during election time encouraging us to vote for good, wise & honest men but emphasizing that the church does not support any political party or ideology. 

Now there is one rather large exception to this policy of neutrality, labeled “social issues.”  Today, this has translated into a strong stance on marriage as being strictly between a man and a woman, although the Church in the last few years has come out in support of the rights of civil partners in same-gender relationships.  (I had the opportunity to speak recently at a dear friend’s civil union to her girlfriend and had an amazing experience.) The Church has also been uniequivocal in being pro-life.  I can speak more to both of these in the Q&A session later if the audience wishes.

There are other gospel doctrines and permutations that may influence political ideology.  I will mention just three. 

First, we are encouraged as individuals and as a church to be self-sufficient in every way.  Although there is an extensive welfare system in the church for those who are poor and needy, there are no handouts.  I remember once as a poor law student being unable to pay some large medical bills and asking my bishop for financial assistance.  He told me it was available, but I was expected to labor in what is called the “bishop's storehouse,” a sort of huge grocery store without cash registers, to obtain the aid I requested.  In addition to being poor, I was incredibly busy, so I opted to cover my medical expenses in another way.  This kind of doctrine could trickle into welfare reform, and may have been one reason why George W. Bush tapped faithful Latter-day Saint Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to be HHS Secretary, Utah of course being influenced by the Church’s example.  It could potentially play on a larger scale in Mitt Romney’s desire to make the country economically, militarily, and agriculturally not only self-sufficient, but dominant.

Another doctrine I see at play in this election is our habit of life-long, even eternal commitments.  In very few words, we often commit massive amounts of time, energy, and resources, and then keep those promises—for forever.  (They say in the Church that it will take all of your time and all of your money, and you’ll never be happier – not far from the truth!) At eight years old or later if a convert, we commit to keep our own health code - no alcohol, tea, tobacco or coffee—and the traditional Christian commandments including no pre-marital sex and being Christ-like and charitable.  I made those promises at eight in a ceremony that lasted less than a minute and have spent the rest of my life keeping these promises to the best of my ability. Likewise, nearly three years ago I promised my husband in a ceremony lasting less than three minutes that I would be faithful to him and all other covenants I had made up to that point not just till death do us part, but for forever.  To pirate Winston Churchill’s phraseology, never has one so young promised so much in so few words

As it relates to the presidential campaign, sometimes I can see in Mitt Romney an exasperation that others don’t appreciate how his keeping his baptismal and marital covenants translates into the ability to keep political promises. 

Finally, and especially relevant to us here in Philadelphia, it is a point of doctrine for us that the Constitution was inspired.  Joseph Smith received a revelation that the U.S. Constitution was created by the hands of wise men who were raised up for that very purpose, and who “redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.”  This may in part explain the avid patriotism of many American Latter-day Saints, who are over-represented in many fields of government, such as the Justice Department, the CIA, the FBI, and the armed services.

One further point regarding the intersection of my faith and politics bears mentioning.  My personal experience in navigating the application of doctrine to life choices as a woman is a micro-example of how politicians interact with their priesthood leaders.  We believe that the doctrine of “agency,” or free will, means that teaching of church doctrines does not extend to personal compulsion.  Individuals are free to live the religion, or apply the principles of the gospel, as they are directed by the Holy Spirit and as they see fit.  Just as I have never been compelled by a priesthood leader to change course, even if my educational and professional pursuits appeared to be atraditional, so a priesthood leader would never counsel a politician to change course if his politics contravened Church policy.  Application of doctrine is strictly a personal affair.


  1. I LOVE reading your blog. Thanks for this.

  2. Bravo! I can't wait tell others that, "I knew you when.." You are a great mouth-piece for our faith- I feel blessed to be learning from more and more through your posts.