Too often today’s political discourse reduces politics to partisanship, whether one affiliates with this or that political party. It’s a much broader topic, however, encompassing big notions about citizenship in a society, how we as a group of people make decisions, how we navigate our responsibilities to each other, to our government, and to our consciences and deepest religious convictions. When we weave in a particular group of people, such as Mormonism, it becomes even more clear that the political sphere is ever evolving—that even as certain themes maintain some influence in how each period of history unfolded, change concerning what Mormons wanted both for and from government was and is always the norm. Mormonism has a wonderful history of thinking fresh about government, about economic forms such as cooperative economies versus free-market capitalism, in wondering about how heaven is governed and if the way it is governed here on earth is truly the ideal. For any who think today’s super-conservatism or uber-Republicanism is built deep in the fabric of Mormon theology or thought is deeply mistaken—yet even as our history tells tales of great latitude, Mormonism really hasn’t yet articulated a clear sense of what it means to approach the political sphere as a Mormon, to live in community, to live in peace. It’s a much needed project!
This two-part episode features three wonderful Mormon historians and social thinkers telling the kind of broad stories about Mormonism’s political past that are very needed if we are to ever find our way out of thinking primarily in partisan boxes. Ben Park, Matthew Bowman, and Patrick Mason join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon on a tour through four major periods in LDS history—Joseph Smith’s political thinking as manifested during his life, the exodus and early Utah period with its continued experimentation with theo-democracy, the period of political assimilation leading up to Utah statehood and on through the middle of the twentieth century, the rise of and shift toward conservatism and on to the present day—noting major themes and shifts, as well as what from each period and ways of thinking about the political sphere still find voice in today’s Mormonism. When came the rise of Latter-day Saint views about the U.S. Constitution as an inspired document—and were early attitudes toward it the same as we find now? When did it shift primarily from political expediency to align with American forms of government and values to actual embrace of them? How does Mormonism’s past steeped in radical millennialism still influence it today? Does it? How have views of “Zion” shifted through the tradition’s 180-plus years? How and why have Mormon views of what constitutes moral goods shifted to concentrate mostly on the individual and domestic sphere versus the wider social one? Are there any signs of possible shifts on the horizon?
We invite you to listen and then join in the conversation in the comments section below!
Patrick Mason, “God and the People: Theodemocracy in Nineteenth Century Mormonism,” Journal of Church and State (2011): 1-27
Patrick Mason, “Visions of Zion,” Christian Century, August 2012.
Matthew Bowman, The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith (New York: Random House, 2012).
Ben Park, “Why Do Mormons Love the Fourth of July So Much?” Religion and Politics, 4 July 2012.
Ben Park, “Mitt Romney, Mormonism, and the Tensions of an ‘American Religion,” Blogpost at Peculiar People
Ben Park, “Mormon Patriotism and the Cultural Reading of Scripture,” Blogpost at Peculiar People