There are a large majority of Mormons (especially here in Utah) that think the Church is wedded to the Republican Party. A very interesting letter was read here in Utah on Mar 22, 2010 as Utah prepared for the upcoming Caucus Meetings. Let me quote something very interesting from the letter. (The full text from the LDS Newsroom can be found here.)
“Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in the platforms of various political parties.” (Emphasis mine.)
Why does it seem that many Mormons don’t seem to believe this, despite the church’s oft-quoted emphasis that the church is politically neutral?
On May 13, 1969, Elder Hugh B Brown of the First Presidency quoted John Gardner, former secretary of health, education, and welfare under Lyndon B. Johnson. Gardner gave a very interesting definition of political extremism:
Political extremism involves two prime ingredients: An excessively simple diagnosis of the world’s ills and a conviction that there are identifiable villains back of it all. . . . Blind belief in one’s cause and a low view of the morality of other Americans–these seem mild failings. But they are the soil in which ranker weeds take root . . . terrorism, and the deep, destructive cleavages that paralyze a society.[John Gardner, No Easy Victories (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 8, 9.]
The text of Brown’s speech can be found here. Almost exactly one year prior to Brown’s speech referenced above, he delivered the Commencement Address at BYU in May 1968. Most of you remember his now famous speech called “Profile of a Prophet.” It’s a fantastic address as he outlines a legal argument to a Canadian judge on why Joseph Smith is a prophet. I recently listened to the entire speech.
During the first 3 minutes of the speech, Brown gives a few jokes and advice, and then he gave a few words about Politics, before addressing his main topic of “Profile of a Prophet.” I’d like to quote his words of advice to the graduating students. I’d like to highlight some things I find particularly interesting.
“You young people are leaving your university at a time in which our nation is engaged in an increasingly abrasive and strident process of electing a president. I wonder if you would permit me as one who has managed to survive a number of these events to pass on to you a few words of counsel.
First, I’d like you to be reassured that the leaders of both major political parties in this land are men of integrity, and unquestioned patriotism. Beware of those who feel obliged to prove their own patriotism by calling into question the loyalty of others. Be skeptical of those who attempt to demonstrate their love of country by demeaning its institutions. Know that men of both major political parties who guide the nation’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches are men of unquestioned loyalty and we should stand by and support them, and this refers not only to one party but to all.
Strive to develop a maturity of mind and emotion and a depth of spirit which will enable you to differ with others on matters of politics without calling into question the integrity of those with whom you differ. Allow within the bounds of your definition of religious orthodoxy variation of political belief. Do not have the temerity to dogmatize on issues where the Lord has seen fit to be silent. I’ve found by long experience that our two-party system is sound. Beware of those who are so lacking in humility, that they cannot come within the framework of one of our two great parties.
Our nation has avoided chaos, like that is gripping France today, because men have been able to temper their own desires sufficiently, seek broad agreement within one of the two major parties, rather than forming splinter groups around their one radical idea.
Our two party system has served us well, and should not be lightly discarded. At a time when radicals of right or left inflame race against race, avoid those who teach evil doctrines of racism. When our Father declared that we, his children, were brothers and sisters, he did not limit this relationship on the basis of race. Strive to develop that true love of country, that realizes that real patriotism must include within it a regard for the people of the rest of the globe. Patriotism has never demanded of good men hatred of another country as proof of one’s love for his own. Require the tolerance and compassion of others and for them. Those with different politics or race or religion will be demanded by the heavenly parentage which we all have in common.
-Hugh B. Brown, Commencement address, Brigham Young University, May 31, 1968
I posted a slightly different version of this post on my blog. The first few people commented that the politicians of the 1960’s must have been “Men of Integrity”, but our current politicians are not. Let’s look at the 60’s for a moment. Lyndon B Johnson’s ratings were so low, that he chose not to run for re-election. Robert F Kennedy was shot and killed just 1 week after Elder Brown’s address, joining his brother John who had been shot and killed just a few years prior. Martin Luther King Jr had been killed just 7 weeks prior to this address (on April 4.)
John F Kennedy had a reputation as a bit of a womanizer. In 1968, Americans were quite sour on the VietNam War. The sexual revolution was in full swing, and the Women’s Liberation movement was well under way. The Bay of Pigs was a disaster in Cuba, and we had just gone through the Cuban Missile Crisis. People were building bomb shelters for fear of Nuclear War with the USSR. The Cold War was as cold as it ever was. Suffice it to say, this decade was a time of tumult.
In the 1968 election that Brown referred to, Nixon won a 3 way race over D-Hubert Humphrey, and I-George Wallace. Let’s not forget that Wallace was later shot in 1972, and we all know what happened to Nixon. I didn’t know what happened in France in 1968, so I looked it up on Wikipedia. Apparently there were some big-time riots, strikes, and protests that almost brought the French government down.
I think it was a much more divisive time than today, though today is a very divisive time. I don’t understand why our country has become so partisan, and why we don’t try to work together more. People are gravitating to the extremes of MoveOn.org, and the Tea Party. Brown saw a similar time of rancorous partisanship in the 60’s, and quoted Gardner:
As these antagonisms become more intense, the pathology is much the same. . . . The ingredients are, first, a deep conviction on the part of the group as to its own limitless virtue or the overriding sanctity of its cause; second, grave doubts concerning the moral integrity of all others; third, a chronically aggrieved feeling that power has fallen into the hands of the unworthy (that is, the hands of others). . . .
Politics can always bring out a lot of rants, and often both sides will have “grave doubts concerning the moral integrity of all others.” I’m sure all of you have your pet political issues. Can we avoid these antagonisms as we discuss the state of our country?
What say you? Are you guilty of Elder Brown’s definition of political extremism? Can you disagree with either President Bush or President Obama without questioning their integrity, just as Elder Brown did with Presidents Johnson, Kennedy, and Nixon? Do you demean the institutions of the Congress or the Supreme Court because you don’t agree with particular legislation or court rulings?