Rethinking The “Moral vs. Political” Question For An International Church

Shawn Larsen church, Government, Mormon, politics 27 Comments

The general election is looming, which means that soon, we here in the U.S. will be hearing an official First Presidency statement in our wards regarding the Church’s political neutrality. You’ve heard the mantra before: the Church does not get involved in political issues, but it does take a stand on moral questions. Despite its seeming simplicity, this statement raises a host of unanswered questions regarding the wisdom of Church involvement in domestic political movements, and its seeming unwillingness to get involved in issues affecting Saints in other parts of the world.

As I recall it from years past, the statement will encourage members to vote their consciences, while emphasizing that the Church does not, and will not, endorse any particular candidate. Going one step further, Church leaders have gone out of their way lately to make clear that members in the U.S. may be active participants in any of the major political parties (video of Elder Ballard making this point). But in stark contrast to its reticence to campaign for individuals, the Church currently is involved in a number of political movements. The most prominent example is the fight against homosexual marriage (aka the movement to preserve the sanctity of marriage). Of course, this is not a new development; for nearly 40 years, the Church was fully engaged in legal and political wrangling in a failed bid to preserve plural marriage.*

Over the past few decades, the Church has developed an interesting formula for justifying its involvement in such movements: “Strictly political matters should be left in the field of politics where they belong. However, on moral issues, the Church and its members take a positive stand.” (1962 First Presidency Statement; emphasis added). As a life-long member, I have heard this “moral vs. political” dichotomy repeated numerous times in talks and lessons, without much thought or guidance being given to as to how differentiate between the two. The entire line of reasoning raises two as-yet-unanswered questions: (i) how does the Church determine whether a political question is sufficiently “moral” to warrant the Church’s full attention and involvement, and (ii) what, if any, application does the “political vs. moral” discussion have to Saints outside the United States?

Question #1: Where is the dividing line between “political” and “moral”?

In my mind, this is a particularly gray area. The current official statement from the Church attempts to answer the question as follows: “The Church does . . . [r]eserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church.” (emphasis added.) Unfortunately, this statement only raises more questions. By their very nature, all political decisions — from which potholes get filled to whether abortion is legalized — have an effect on the surrounding community. When are those consequences “significant” and/or “moral” and what factors are to be examined in making this determination? In the absence of a definitive answer, all we can do is look to past examples of Church activism. In my lifetime, the Church has been involved in all manner of seemingly political fights, such as:

  • Equal Rights Amendment: This is well-trod ground, so I won’t say much here, other than that the Church was one of the main opponents of the ERA, with many crediting the Church’s involvement with its ultimate defeat. The Church justified this protracted fight on the ground that the ERA presented a “moral issue with many disturbing ramifications for women and for the family as individual members and as a whole,” including “encouragement of those who seek a unisex society, an increase in the practice of homosexual and lesbian activities, and other concepts which could alter the natural, God-given relationship of men and women.”
  • MX Missile base: In 1978-79, President Carter & the Department of Defense announced Utah as the site for a system of thousand of intercontinental ballistic missiles (known as “MX Missiles”), with the stated goal of serving as deterrent against a first-strike attack by the then-menacing USSR (doesn’t the Cold War seem a bit quaint now?). After initially remaining silent, the Church (in 1981) issued a strong statement objecting to the proposal on the ground that it implicated “the pressing moral question of possible nuclear conflict.”
  • Legalized Gambling: In 1992, the First Presidency issued a statement condemning “renewed and vigorous attempts to legalize gambling, including a state-operated lottery, charitable gambling and pari-mutuel betting.” The Church regarded this as “a moral issue and unalterably oppose[s] such proposals on grounds of private and public morality, as well as a threat to the cultivation and maintenance of strong family and community values.”
  • Flat Tax in UT: In 2005, the Church (through its phalanx of lawyers) lobbied in favor of maintaining Utah’s state tax exemptions for charitable donations. The issue arose in the context of the long-since-abandoned “flat tax proposal.” Again, public statements did not frame the issue as “moral,” but arguments were founded in scripture mandates to care for their poor” (e.g., Moroni 4:26).
  • Sale of Alcohol in Utah Convenience Stores: In January of this year, the Church issued a statement condemning the sale of distilled spirits (aka alcopops) in grocery and convenience stores. While not specifically defining the issue as a “moral” one, the statement took the position that the sale of alcopops anywhere other than liquor stores “promotes underage drinking and undermines the state system of alcohol control.”

Quite frankly, it is difficult to cull out any guiding principles from these examples. I can see the “moral” underpinnings to the marriage and gambling issues, but for the life of me, I cannot argue the “moral” implications of selling booze at Smith’s Food King or adopting a flat tax with a straight face. It seems that issues that directly impact traditional notions of the family, or that deal with potentially dangerous addictions cross the line. But if this is true, why don’t we take these principles to their logical end? If the Church is worried about the detrimental effects of intoxicants such as alcohol, shouldn’t it also have taken steps to oppose local initiatives (like those in California and Oregon) to legalize medical marijuana?

Question #2: How does this discussion apply outside the U.S.?

Thinking about the “moral vs. political” dilemma, I came to a eye-opening realization: all of my discussions, and all of the materials I have read, on this subject relate exclusively to U.S.-based issues (and, more often than not, local Utah politics). This strikes me as an extremely myopic focus. Certainly the Church cannot get involved in every potential “moral” issue across the globe. But if we are to become a truly international church, shouldn’t we be at least as involved in foreign “moral” issues as we are in local ones? Put another way, why are our problems so much more important than those of our brothers and sisters in other countries? Here’s just one example: the Church has spent millions of dollars spearheading anti-gay-marriage initiatives across the country. At the same time, however, as I understand it, the Church didn’t lay out one thin dime to fight against the ultimately successful gay marriage movements in countries like Canada and Spain, countries with active LDS populations and temples. Don’t families there merit the same “protection” as American families?

In a 1979 statement, the First Presidency indirectly addressed this issue, saying (in pertinent part): “The many and varied circumstances in which our Church members live … make it inadvisable for the Church to involve itself institutionally in every local community issue. These challenges are best responded to by members as they meet their obligations as citizens—preferably in concert with other like-minded individuals.” That’s an understandable sentiment, but in light of the Church’s efforts on behalf of its American members, is it fair to push the full burden of political activism back onto non-U.S. members? Speaking for myself, I’d rather see the money being spent to thwart the evils of “alcopops” in Utah County 7-11’s directed to rebuild the infrastructure of Central American countries (like Guatemala where I served my mission) ravaged by decades of civil war.

* * *

Thinking about all of this, I’m really torn. One thing I appreciate about the Church is that no one (in an official capacity, at least) tells me how to vote. I am free to pick the candidate I deem to be the best choice (Obama ’08, baby!), and feel no obligation to vote in a way pleasing unto the Church or my local leaders. So, I am very much in favor of neutrality. Similarly, some of the stances the Church has taken in the past make me uncomfortable. I find our opposition to the ERA to have been short-sighted and, ultimately, ill-directed. If we spread our political influence to a broader array of problems, the likelihood that we will “get it wrong” statistically increases, which makes me want to simply drop the whole endeavor out of fear. At the same time, I would like to see the Church get more involved in global issues that I think may rightly be classified as “moral.” If we are truly Christians, why aren’t we denouncing this God-forsaken war in a much more direct manner? Why don’t we lend our voice to the chorus of organizations fighting to stop genocide in Africa? Sending humanitarian packages is a good start, but there is so much more we could do. And what better way is there for us to truly adopt the mantle of an international church? We have so much to offer; it would be shame if we were to simply hide our collective light under a bushel. Focusing exclusively on issues affecting only the few (percentage-wise) Mormons in Utah seems so 19th century to me.

What do you think about this? Where should we draw the line between “political” and “moral” issues? Is attempting to do so a worthwhile exercise at all? Does this discussion have any applicability outside the U.S., or am I totally missing the boat?

*For a great treatment of this subject, I highly recommend “The Mormon Question,” by Sarah Barringer Gordon.

Comments

comments

Comments 27

  1. You bring up some great points. As they say, “All politics is local.” It seems quite obvious that the Church leadership hasn’t successfully transitioned away from thinking of the Church as an American (and a Utahn) institution, although the transition towards globalism is definitely underway.

    Another argument that could be made, though, is that the Church is only as strong as the legal system of the country in which it is headquartered, so it would naturally wish to do all in its power to promote political conditions that would be most favorable to its flourishment.

  2. The dividing line between political and moral is obviously a messy one, and something that is moral may be political, but something that is political isn’t necessarily moral.

  3. I would point out a couple things.

    First all, several of the issues which you identify as moral issues are no doubt moral issues- however, the methods used to deal with it are subject to great debate.

    For example the most effective way to deal with poverty in South America is not really a moral issue, as both sides want to improve things, but disagree on the best method.

    Surely the Church such avoid taking a position without an ability to clearly identify a position that is consistent with Church doctrine while the other positions are clearly in opposition. Unless God decides to give some revelation on the matter of course.

    To me the ERA, gay marriage, and legalized gambling fall into this level of clarity.

    The Iraq War and global poverty do not- however much you may feel they do.

    The other issues are Utah specific. The MX missile base was more about the fact that the strategic effect was to make Utah a “nuclear sponge” so that in the event of war the USSR would have to expend most of its nuclear warheads on turning Utah and Nevada into a wasteland instead of nuking more valuable American territory. Naturally you can see why the Church could legitimately oppose that.

    It seems to me that the Church has adopted a policy of not get as involved in politics outside of Utah, and even more so outside of the US. This seems sensible as the Church is more vulnerable outside the United States. Meanwhile the Church can attempt to set up the US as an example to the rest of the world, and Utah as an example to the rest of the US.

  4. Some other areas of political activity include:

    1) Support of Prohibition

    2) Opposition to “Old Age Assistance” (Social Security) on the grounds that the government would spend the money instead of investing it, and as a result would need to continue raising taxes in order to meet its obligations.

    Also, the Church has participated in some below the radar political activity in other countries. Small stuff, and usually base around influencing legislation before it is proposed rather than supporting or opposing after legislation is up for a vote.

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    Cicero — your posts highlight the very problem I am trying to address. Why is combatting poverty around the world “not really a moral issue”? The scriptures are full of admonitions from Christ himself that must we care for “the least of” our populations? And why do you feel so surely that the Iraq War is not a “moral” issue? Again, there is plenty of scriptural basis for pacifism. This is especially true light of the “muclear war” rationale employed by President Kimball in confronting the MX missile crisis. And on that topic, I simply don’t see why that it “naturally” is a “moral” issue. The point of the post is to generate throughts on how to better make an informed distinction between these two concepts. At the same time, why is “support of prohibition” clearly a political issue, while fighting the sale of alcopops in convenience a moral issue? Seems to me we need come up with some clearer guidelines, rather than simply assuring ourselves that these issues are already as clear as day.

  6. I think the mypoia is part of a historical understanding of the destination of the Church. The land of America has doctrinally/hisotrically been considered the center point for the winding up scenes. The density of Mormonism in America makes it easier for America to be a prime target for influence. Right now, we are in a Mormon Diaspora, for example (and have been since the early 20th Century). But that isn’t the destiny of the Church. The Diaspora is only a temporary moment as at some time the 10th Article of Faith will kick in:

    “We believe that Zion (The New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American Continent, and that the Earth will be renewed to receive its paradiasical glory.”

    That’s scripture.

    I also don’t see the Chuch envisioning itself to intervene “morally” in ways that would decrease the likelihood of the loss of access in other countries. In this way it stays very neutral. We have luxuries in America to speak out, and thus, take appropraite action. I just think that its a return on investment. Spend the money in Europe and Canada to fight gay marriage, where the return on investment is less, you lose, and so does your investment. Invest in America, where you have a greater likelihood of success, keep the barbarians at bay in the home country, and you may live to fight a future battle in far off lands. Plain and simple, its strategic placement of assets.

    I find the concern about environmental, poverty, and traditional liberal causes to be compelling, and it does seem that Church settles on moral issues that are traditionally conservative (marriage, gambling, etc.) but many of the modern liberal causes of poverty abatement and environmental stewardship have a marketably socialist bent to it, which the Church adamently opposes. I did hear Pres. Hinckly come out about 10 years ago against guns in public schools, so its not entirely conservative. The Church is decidedly more liberal in terms of personal economics, anti-greed, stewardship, service to the poor, but these ideas are not policy-based, they’re personally-based, and thus, non-political, whereas gay marriage is an opposition-to moral stance reflect a defensive stance against a unraveling culture fabric. This cultural fabric is necessary to allow us to be personally liberal in our proactive service and love of others.

    The Church could be more anti-war. That’s a wish from me.

  7. Separation of church and state should be inviolate. Encouraging individual members to be politically active is fine – they are citizens. Church leaders meeting with Mike Leavitt and providing direction to the state of UT is not.

    The main reasons I see the church being less involved in other countries politics are: 1) I do believe the mind-set hasn’t yet shifted to become truly a global church, 2) pragmatism due to the political nature of some of those countries, 3) lack of clarity around the legislative issues. On #2, our country’s political process is meant to be an ongoing debate. Most countries, even democracies, are not really about the ongoing argument. There is a difference between an evolving-argument based democracy like ours and just a government by the people with free elections.

  8. That’s what I pointed out Shawn.

    Surely combating poverty is a moral issue. However, there are plenty of scripturally based arguments that using the government to fight poverty is immoral.

    So while the church is making several efforts to combat poverty (consider the PEF), it does not take a position supporting government policies to combat poverty as the morality of those methods are not clear.

    That’s what I tried to point out. Just because an issue is “moral” is not enough, the must also be a clearly “right” position and a clearly “wrong” position. This is not the case on how governments should deal with poverty.

  9. Excellent post, Shawn, and worthy of careful thought. Ultimately, whatever the First Presidency decides is a “moral issue” is going to be defined as such, if the First Presidency decides they wish to intervene on a given issue. In looking at the above examples, it appears that in some cases a decision was made to intervene, and the issue was considered a “moral issue” as a result of that decision to intervene, rather than the other way around. The loose definition of “political” vs. “moral” provides such wiggle room.

    Several others have already identified important considerations. I’m not sure I quite understand this one, however:

    whereas gay marriage is an opposition-to moral stance reflect a defensive stance against a unraveling culture fabric. This cultural fabric is necessary to allow us to be personally liberal in our proactive service and love of others.

    Perhaps the author can explain how opposing marriage equality allows LDS to be “personally liberal” in their “proactive service and love of others.” To put a finer point on it, how would marriage equality prevent LDS from serving and loving others? I don’t immediately grasp the connection.

    In addition to some of the thoughts above, I think there’s an additional element involved. With the Hinckley administration, it appears that public relations took on a more significant role in LDS decision making. I would suggest that expected public perception plays a role in what issues are considered “moral” enough to warrant official LDS intervention. For example, the LDS church officially declines to comment on any proposed legislation regarding abortion (though Hinckley did once refer to partial birth abortion as “abominable”). Clearly, abortion is an important “moral” issue to the LDS church, but look at the public perception generated by many anti-abortion activists. Many of them have gone overboard in their tactics (even to the point of murdering doctors who perform abortions), and as a result, they’ve been perceived as nutjobs. Perhaps this has something to do with official LDS reluctance to actively lobby on the issue?

    By contrast, official LDS lobbying to oppose marriage equality presents the LDS church in a way that is highly favorable to what might be considered its target conversion demographic, i.e. religious conservatives. I pay a considerable amount of attention to the activities and writings of anti-gay activists. Having done so, I see that the LDS church has actually adopted the specific language (verbatim) of christian evangelicals on this issue. Shifts in the official LDS declarations regarding homosexuality have closely followed the same shifts in the evangelical “ex-gay” and “anti-gay” movements. Further, Mitt Romney revealed in an interview with Christianity Today, that Hinckley met with Jerry Falwell in order to discuss how they could work together to defeat marriage equality and gay rights measuers in California. I don’t think it’s overly cynical, given these facts, to conclude that official opposition to marriage equality is at least partially intended to help the LDS church look more “christian” to so-called “mainstream” christians, and as a result, to positively influence LDS missionary work.

    Similar lobbying by the LDS church in Europe would likely have the opposite effect, given the more predominately liberal culture there. Ergo, the LDS church has avoided such overtures in those countries. Right now, the American public is basically 50/50 on the issue of at least some kind of legal recognition for committed same-sex relationships. The percentage of Americans opposed to such recognition is dropping a few points each year. At some point, the balance will tip enough that it will no longer be considered worth the “perception risk” to actively engage in fighting marriage equality. When that times comes, I think you’ll see a change in official LDS tactics on the issue.

  10. As for anti-war, the Church has always been anti-war.

    However, it has also been very patriotic- in the old traditional sense of supporting your country once it is at war. This can create tensions that are no longer capable of expression in the post-Vietnam era.

    There is also the issue that the Church is very anti-communist. This led to us essentially choosing sides in the Cold War, and I think a lot of people are still trying to reorient themselves in a post-Cold War world.

    Additionally, on the issue of the Iraq War, there is a big difference between stupid and immoral.

    Saddam Hussein was not a good guy, and he had repeatedly engaged in actions that traditionally are considered acts of war, including shooting at American planes. Despite all the hoopla about WMD, if you look at the actual resolution authorizing the Presidents use of force WMD is not the only justification given to go to war. In fact it was Britain that convinced President Bush to make WMD the center piece of justification on the grounds that it would provide the best chance for gaining international approval.

    In short there are many logical arguments that can be made for the Iraq war being a moral one. (The fact that we have not simply conquered and annexed the place with whole sale slaughter of anyone who opposes us ought to be a sign of something). The real question is was it a stupid war or not.

    Unfortunately in the United States we tend to assume that if wars don’t end sweet and easy then obviously we must be in the wrong somehow. I have never understood the reasoning behind such a thought process.

  11. Nick, I think you make an interesting point about whether opposing abortion is more of a moral imperative than opposing gay marriage. My initial thought when I read that is that the church generally only seems interested in how life is lived, not matters of life and death. In other words, the church doesn’t get involved in causes that most would consider of the highest moral imperative (e.g. Darfur, war in Iraq, global warming) because they do not relate to personal righteousness.

    But, on further reflection, I think you are right, and I want to elaborate on your point. If abortion doesn’t require legislation (you can allow it, but teach your adherents not to have one), then why doesn’t gay marriage fall into that same bucket? You can allow it and teach your adherents not to do it. Isn’t abortion damaging to the individual that engages in it? However, there is also some evidence that allowing abortion eases some societal burdens (e.g. argument laid out in Freakonomics that crime rates dropped 20 years after Roe v. Wade). Allowing gay marriage is new, directly challenges traditional notions of marriage, and contradicts the proclamation on the family. But is it really going to tear the fabric of society? Doubtful. Gay marriage doesn’t make more people gay. But legalizing abortion may make more people get one.

    I hope I didn’t just corrupt your line of thought beyond recognition. Just wanted to explore it a little.

  12. Well, well done Shawn,

    I often hear it raised how much US voters get motivated (angry) by macro issues but don’t inform themselves well on local issues, especially community issues, where they arguably have the most effect. (I’ve seen this in the misinformation or “motivated apathy” in local Utah issues like school vouchers, hazardous waste storage, fluoridation, etc.) Therefore, it might be argued that the LDS Church record shows they have focused on “moral” issues that most affect its local community. (Of course finding consistency and reconciliation even in this perspective is challenging.)

    As the church becomes more global (and positions itself as more global) I agree that its silence, not only on macro, global issues, but helping to distill that down into locally-driven moral imperatives, is troubling. Look at the Pope meeting with Bush on the plight of persecuted Christian minorities in Iraq. You haven’t seen an LDS President articulate issues that way.

    We don’t see a record of the LDS Church taking a stand and clear leadership on preemptive war, debt relief, humanitarian causes, environmental issues, care for the poor, globalized captitalism and the distribution of wealth, etc. Yes, the church has humanitarian programs to effect positive results in some of these areas, but they are not as clear, IMO, in leadership, nor is there spending as expansive as other churches as a percentage of the budget. (But verifying this is a little challenging with little public reporting happening.) I’ll admit, both macro/globally and locally, that the LDS church hasn’t aligned itself to a stance of moral leadership which personally motivates me was a contributor to my disaffection. But it wasn’t the cause I changed faiths. Nor do I think the LDS church immoral. It is just a matter of differing loyalties and personal motivations.

    Thanks to Shawn for articulating the issue how he did. It made me consider a new perspective I hadn’t thought of before. Apart from differing moral perspectives or issues allegiances, the greater issue to me is a lack of membership-driven moral issues imperatives. It seems to me what the LDS Church does get involved in are more a reflection of top-down Corporate allegiances (as good as they may or may not be) rather than a organizational reflection of the moral commitments and climate of the local LDS membership experience. Yes, the Church uses grass-roots efforts to carry out the political-moral issues to which it allies itself, but the issues chosen to be backed, IMO, are less a reflection of “foundation-forward” grass-roots moral crusading.

  13. Cicero – good point about the Iraq war. I like your stupid vs. immoral angle. Someone running for office ought to pick that thread up.

    I agree with JfQ – great post, Shawn! Very much got me thinking.

  14. This is a very good exploration of an interesting and perplexing issue. To answer your questions:

    1. The Church probably intervenes when and where it thinks its involvement can make a difference. Because the Church has more political clout in some places than others, (e.g., Utah the most, outside of the U.S. the least), it is naturally more politically active where it has more influence.

    2. I agree that there are other issues that are greater “moral” issues in my estimation in which the Church could be a benefit. But the question is the method the Church uses to make a difference.

    3. I’m not sure that political activism is where the Church should focus its efforts to make a positive difference in the world. There is so much “moral” work we could do with humanitarian efforts, education, etc. We don’t need Washington D.C. in order to do good.

    4. I honestly do not understand the obsession with opposing gay marriage. I believe that emotional and physical abuse and neglect by HETEROSEXUAL SPOUSES is a far greater threat to the FAMILY than two of my gay neighbors being legally married.

  15. hawkgrrrl My initial thought when I read that is that the church generally only seems interested in how life is lived, not matters of life and death. In other words, the church doesn’t get involved in causes that most would consider of the highest moral imperative (e.g. Darfur, war in Iraq, global warming) because they do not relate to personal righteousness.

    How is Global Warming not about personal righteousness? Every single living being has a carbon foot print that each individual has power to change.

    The church has by the way spoken out about GLobal Warming – way back in 1991 – see: http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=3613b850e318b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1

    The article includes these things individuals can do to help:

    “How You Can Help

    Here are a few ideas you might consider in trying to take better care of the earth:

    • Find ways to reduce unnecessary personal consumption of energy, water, wood products, and other products that come from scarce resources.

    • Stop using products that damage the environment.

    • Recycle metal, glass, plastic, and paper products.

    • Be conscientious in disposing of chemical wastes properly.

    • Learn more about natural processes and earth science.

    • Cultivate a garden where possible; learn the art and science of composting.

    • Adopt a conservation rather than a consumption attitude.

    • Be grateful.”

  16. Very interesting discussion. Here are just some of my thoughts:

    Shawn, you seem very interesting in defining what the guidelines are for when the church should be engaging in issues. You are very interested in knowing what is a “moral” issue. But I think is that it’s impossible to distinguish, and the church’s statement doesn’t try to. The statement that the church gets involved in “moral” issues, not “political” ones, is not a complete statement of policy. It is intentionally vague, and it should be. Any attempt to be more specific would be impossible. A moral issue is what the church determines is a moral issue. You want a way to predict if any particular issue will be important to the church. I submit that you can’t predict it. You’ll know the church considers it a moral issue when they speak on the issue (not to say that the opposite is true–just because the church doesn’t speak does not mean it is not a moral issue).

    Also, I don’t think the church needs to explicitly state every condition on the earth which it wishes didn’t exist and thinks should be done away with. If that were the case, it would probably take the entire general conference and more to go through the list. The church doesn’t need to put out a press release that says “World Poverty is a Problem” or “Genocide is Bad”. I think that’s pretty clear. Of course those are moral issues, but they don’t need any further clarification from the church. I agree with Cicero that how best to deal with those issues is not a moral question. The church does not employ foreign policy experts to my knowledge. The church sticks to what it is an expert on: personally morality and charity.

    I’m not saying I agree with every stance the church makes or doesn’t make, but I think some here are being unrealistic in their expectations of what he church should be doing. It seems obligatory to bring up the familiar scripture:

    D&C 58
    26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
    27 Verily I say, men should be aanxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

  17. I apologize if my comment sounded condescending. I of course did not intend to call anyone “slothful”.:) I quoted the scripture to support the church’s non-stances, not to call anyone to repentence, in case that wasn’t clear.

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    Mike L. (#16 & 17)” No offense taken 🙂 I’m not looking to tie the Church down to a specific definition of “moral.” But, for me, the “its moral because they say its moral” answer is unsatisfying. I would just the Church to expand whatever criteria it is currently using to include a broader range of issues, and to extend outside the Wasatch Front.

    “The church doesn’t need to put out a press release that says “World Poverty is a Problem” or “Genocide is Bad”.”

    The issue is not simply a declaration from the Church. You’re right; that alone would be a redundnacy. But what I would like to see is the Church taking the lead to combat these problems in a more public way, instead of fighting local Utah political issues. Think of all the good will such efforts would generate!

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    #15: Good catch. Personally, I would like to see that message repeated in a public fashion.

    #8: “However, there are plenty of scripturally based arguments that using the government to fight poverty is immoral.”

    This is news to me. In any event, what’s the argument that keeping distilled spirits out of convenience stores (while allowing them to be sold in liquor stores) is “clearly ‘right,'” as opposed to using governmental programs to fight international poverty (which, according to your scale, does not measure up)?

    #9: In hopes of avoiding a total threadjack, I’ll resist the temptation to use this comment to rant about the war. Suffice it to say, stupid or not, the issue is the death and destruction of human life. We, as a Church, should take a stand against it, politics be damned.

    #12/#13 — thanks for the kind words 🙂

    #14: “honestly do not understand the obsession with opposing gay marriage. I believe that emotional and physical abuse and neglect by HETEROSEXUAL SPOUSES is a far greater threat to the FAMILY than two of my gay neighbors being legally married.”

    Very well said. I agree.

  20. Jeff: “How is Global Warming not about personal righteousness? Every single living being has a carbon foot print that each individual has power to change.” Global Warming’s link to personal accountability is not as cut & dried as the media might wish us to believe. While global warming may be real, that’s the not the same thing as it being clear how to address it and how much individual behaviors can change it. If everyone in China jumped at the same time, would it cause an earthquake? No. Yet, some global warming wonks would suggest that such effects can be achieved. Earth Day was essentially a bust. I was just at a conference week before last where one of the topics was “green equals green.” Participants were disappointed to learn that that statement meant “being green is expensive” vs. “being green creates wealth.” The easy choices will not make the difference. There are systematic ways to measure your own carbon footprint and to reduce it, but are they reliable? And carbon off-sets (the moral equivalent of buying pardons) are fraught with problems. You pay Al Gore a certain amount of money to off-set your flight across the world, which then is used to plant trees in a village, which dispossesses local farmers of their lands. Oh, and come to find out they planted the wrong kind of trees for that climate and made Global Warming worse.

    It can’t be about personal righteousness when it’s not clear individual actions will solve the problem. It’s a macro problem to solve. Our very way of life would have to change dramatically. We would have to become farmers and live in cooperative communities with shared localized power sources. Not eating beef wasn’t on your list above, yet it has been suggested it is more impactful than recycling (reducing bovine excretions). Is that true? Who knows at this point?

  21. hawkgrrrl: “While global warming may be real, that’s the not the same thing as it being clear how to address it and how much individual behaviors can change it. If everyone in China jumped at the same time, would it cause an earthquake? No. Yet, some global warming wonks would suggest that such effects can be achieved”

    Your comparing apples to oranges here. You cant really believe that if everyone stopped emitting carbon that the amount of carbon in the atmosphere would not decrease?

    Im not sure what all the other issues you bring up have to do with personal responsibility and the environment other than to derail the original point with what I see as non related doubt.

  22. Jeff – maybe you meant “personal responsibility” when you said “personal righteousness.” I see those as totally different things. Being a responsible citizen of the world is not the same as living God’s commandments. I refute the claim that not taking specific personal steps to reduce global warming makes someone unrighteous. It may be irresponsible, but to call it unrighteous implies that it’s completely clear how to address it. Littering and polluting are clearer than how to reduce global warming. It’s not possible for humans to just stop emitting carbon today.

  23. “Perhaps the author can explain how opposing marriage equality allows LDS to be “personally liberal” in their “proactive service and love of others.” To put a finer point on it, how would marriage equality prevent LDS from serving and loving others? I don’t immediately grasp the connection.”

    Nick, my point was to point out the normative directions that influence the marriage-based decision from the Church’s view. While I have fleshed out the argument myself I don’t want to threadjack the post into another squabble about gay marriage.

    To hawkgrrl and Jeff, I think the argument on global warming is more of an argument in unnecessary consumption. This, in and of itself, is its own moral economic imperitive. Unfortunately, the global warming debate has been hijacked into a means to create global socialism IMO, so I find no moral imperative to give away my country’s sovreignty. On the other hand, we have the means to solve it in the free market, but oil and gas are just too darn profitable. For me it’s a political quandry I can’t quite wrap my arms around. There isn’t much personally I can do except to stop living my life so that I won’t have to drive a car or breathe, but that would conflict with the greater commandment to multiply and replenish the earth. I can get invovled politically, but the whole thing’s a mess and President Monson hasn’t told me what to do, so I’m taking a pass on this one. Maybe they have a line into God and he’s told them that opposing gay marriage is more important. So be it, I’m lifting my hand in support. Perhaps they’re wrong, but so could academia, the APA, Hollywood, the Democratic Party, and the gay lobby.

  24. Pingback: Voting Mormon at Mormon Matters

  25. Not sure just how I found this site, but very glad I did. It’s been a most interesting read – and one, in my own heart, I agree with the writer. I am about to write a letter to our local paper and did a search – “moral vs political issues” that brought me to your web page.

    Having moved to TN from MI four years ago I have learned just what the expression “Bible belt” references. The local Baptist church puts out their white crosses during the dark of night for November’s election day. Each one representing those aborted. The polling booths close at 8PM and the crosses are quietly taken down and packed away only to show up in two years (for national elections). It is their sutle, but extremely influencial, means of taking their parishioners ‘prisoner’ when exercising their voting right.

    I do not support late term abortion, but do want my daughter-in-laws and granddaughters to have the right to chose – I believe, if faced with having to make a decision, will make the right decision – with Gods help. I also find it so sad that so many cast their vote for President of this great country based ONLY on the moral issue of abortion, but will never question the innocent deaths of mother’s children in Iraq or Darfur that have been given a name and held by a loving parent. My religious belief tells me this is highly immoral! It also leads me to believe God’s words support the importance that our President MUST be elected on their stance on political issues, not solely on their moral values.

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