The bloggernacle has seen a good deal of political chatter this past year. Mormons have typically been political active, and are usually pretty predictable voters. While the Church emphatically asserts its political neutrality, it is no secret that the Mormon political mold spells something along the lines of socially conservative Republican, with an aversion to those naughty “liberal democrats.” Given the apparent link between religion and political leanings, I find it very worthwhile to turn to the scriptures in order see what political directives we might find there.
First a disclaimer: While I make an effort to stay informed and fulfill my civil duties, I am not a political scientist, and, as is usually the case in politics, I am sure that anything I present here can be soundly rebutted by very valid counterpoints. Even so, I want to try to see what perspectives and insights regarding politics, government, and society can be gleaned from the standard works.
In the early chapters of the Bible, we learn of a theocratic regime: Moses, effectively a theocratic dictator, was charged with receiving, establishing, and enforcing a massive piece of legislation (Leviticus & Deuteronomy.) Failure to comply with these laws was met with a penalty, oftentimes capital punishment.
Post Moses, we see a venn diagram of political systems; the ruler occasionally had prophetic roles (Solomon/David,) and sometimes did not. (Jeroboam, Rehoboam). Even if we simply look at the books of the Old Testament, we see the political overtones (Kings, Judges.)
The New Testament mixes things up a bit with Jesus at once identifying himself as the “King of the Jews,” yet asserting that his “kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) When asked about the local government, Jesus seems to advocate a clear separation between church and state:
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:13-17)
In terms of economic philosophy however, things get a bit more complicated. The parable of the talents and even the widow’s mite suggest ideas of economic relativism, even perhaps leaning towards the concept of “each according to his needs, each according to ability.” That said, we also see the concept of reciprocity come through many of Jesus’ teachings—reaping what you sow, and being judged accordingly. The accountability of the individual seems to be in place to generate the type of personal motivation that we would see in a successful laisser-faire free-market economic system.
We don’t have any information regarding what social programs King Benjamin implemented as king, but we do see some ideas come through in his speech that hint at some economically liberal themes:
“And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say:
‘The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just,’
But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?” (Mosiah 4:16-19)
The Nephites, while their government usually kept close ties with the religious leaders, had a society that valued personal liberty. We learn that “there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds.” (Alma 30:7) It was these liberties that Captain Moroni rallied his people to defend during the Amalickiah conflict. It may seem odd that Moroni, given his exceptional moral and religious character, would want to defend someone’s right to disbelieve, but I can’t help but think that he would agree with Voltaire’s famed statement, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” In many ways, this ideology encapsulates the core of libertarianism, and is articulated in other places in the scriptures as well:
“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27)
I found it a bit amusing when one of the US presidential candidates (with libertarian leanings) had as one of his slogans “Choose Liberty,” which I identified as coincidentally having come from this 2 Ne. 2:27 scripture. Again looking deeper in the scriptures, we see that the defense of choice, agency and liberty is a major and dominant theme in our account of the pre-mortal world:
“Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.” (Moses 4:3-4)
Looking from a more modern perspective, we see these ideas continued in a specific reference to the United States government:
“…According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles; … And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land.” (D&C 101:77, 98:5-6)
Here we see the Lord take credit for the establishment of the rights, freedoms, and principles set forth in the US Constitution, which was in large part were drafted by James Madison, a near poster-child for classical liberalism.
However, when we look at the what we might consider the “goal” of a society, we might consider the post-Christ Nephites, the city of Enoch, or the Zion described in the D&C. We learned that they had “all things in common,” and exhibited economic characteristics of what might be essentially described as Utopian communism (although Ezra Taft Benson would assert that it is simply “consecration.”) Of course, there are sharp differences in ideology between the Mormon United Order and Marxist proletariat communism, but in terms of practical economics, the differences more or less boil down to nomenclature.
I’m afraid I’ve done quite a poor job as masking my own political biases, but what I want to emphasize as the take-away from this post is the broad span of ideologies that are in fact compatible with LDS scripture. Also, I wish to point out that there is often a lack of clear-cut answers to be derived from our holy texts regarding these political issues.
For example, in terms of military strategy, we see both pacifists (Ammonites) and warriors (army of Helaman) among the righteous. The scriptures also show us successful, righteous societies under a range of theocratic, monarchical, judicial, socialistic, federal, tribal, patriarchal, decentralized, and democratic governments, and the embracing social, economic, and political ideas that are at times liberal, at times conservative, and at times both.
I suppose that’s why politics is so fascinating, and renders itself to such great debate topics. It seems to be one of those things that on any given issue, two people with differing views can both be right; and the question of who is more right is left up to the observer. Does these ideas carry over into any broader gospel concepts?