Friday, July 17, 2009

Can A Latter-Day Saint Be Both A Liberal And A "Real" Mormon? If They Are Members Loyal To Church Doctrine, The Answer Is "Yes"

A post entitled "Are Liberal Mormons Real Mormons?" on the Things Of My Soul blog gave me the idea for this post. There is somewhat of a growing divide within the Church between liberal and conservative Mormons, and I think it would be useful to explore and resolve it as much as possible. This divide was most recently exacerbated by the LDS Church's advocacy on behalf of California Proposition 8, although the Church itself merely launched the campaign, while the funding and the trooping came from individual members.

Part of the problem lies with the liberals themselves. Many of them have not yet become truly secure in their political positions. So they seek to overcompensate in advance, reacting defensively and emotionally to challenge and criticism. Rather than promoting dialogue, they end up pushing monologue.

But many liberals within the Church do report experiencing hostility and even outright abuse from some conservative members. Some will even imply that liberal Mormons aren't real Mormons, without considering whether or not the liberal Mormon is a member in good standing, a full tithe-payer with a temple recommend. One statement attributed to President Ezra Taft Benson years ago is that one could not be both a good Mormon and a Democrat. But to imply that liberal Mormons may not be real Mormons is unacceptable.

How did Mormons in the United States become predominantly conservative? It's because the Democratic Party changed. The Democrats started espousing liberal positions on social issues. They promoted elective abortion and so-called "gay rights". These are anathema to Church doctrine. Consequently, many LDS who had been Democrat dating back to the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal shifted to the Republican Party simply because it became the only party posing no threat to the LDS social agenda. They had no other political home available to them.

But there are plenty of examples of liberal Mormons who are "real" Mormons. One of the best examples can be found on the MormonLeft blog. Viewing the blog, you can tell it is a classical liberal resource, replete with the standard links to an extremist site like Daily Kos as well as links to more moderate liberal resources. However, his political liberalism has no apparent effect upon his doctrinal loyalty to the Church. In this post, MormonLeft continues to clearly express doctrinal allegiance to the LDS theological position on homosexuality:

Where the problem comes is where the church is asked to repudiate "such teachings as homosexuality being an evil perversion." "Evil perversion" seems harsh, lets just call it sin. No matter the semantics, though, this will not change. First, it is not the homosexuality that is a sin, but homosexual actions, which is not a small difference. In any case, changing the church's teachings here would be reversing a prophetic pronouncement and one of the most basic doctrinal tenets of the church: the sanctity of the heterosexual marriage.

Not only is it theologically untenable, it is not necessary. As I stated above, there is no reason why we can't hold on dearly to our beliefs but still allow gay marriage amendments and votes to go forward without our opposition. Allowing gays to marry will not cheapen my marriage, or any other temple marriage that has ever been performed, nor will it negate or lessen the prophetic and doctrinal truth that we espouse. We can still use our influence through our missionary program and our examples and discussions with our neighbors, but going the political route is more harmful than beneficial. The church won't, and shouldn't, reverse its teachings about marriage, but it can, and should, take a different approach in public statements and treatment of non-Mormon gays. These are very different things that should not be confused and completely intertwined.


But the church has always stressed love and sympathy and tolerance of the person. Many members can't separate the condemnation of the sin and the person, and I admit that it is very hard. When church teaches that homosexuality is a sin, but that the person is to be loved and respected, many members use this as a basis for over-the-top rhetoric against the sin and the person. The fault is not with the church, but with the individual that misinterprets. The church, I believe, can and should stress this point more clearly and often for those that don't understand.

It looks to me like this is a good faith effort to bring the two sides together, but there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between doctrine and public policy.
For the church and its faithful members, requiring that it reverse its prophetic pronouncement and no longer consider homosexual acts sins is a non-starter. But members of the church can begin separate the politics from the doctrine and reach out with more understanding and tolerance.

You can clearly see that on four separate occasions within this post, MormonLeft clearly supports the LDS Church's doctrinal position on homosexuality. So despite the fact that he still supports more "rights" for gays in the civil realm, there is NO REASON to question MormonLeft's faithfulness to the Church. Until proven otherwise, MormonLeft is both a liberal AND a real Mormon.

Two other prominent examples of liberal Mormons who can be considered "real" Mormons are Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT). While Senator Reid espouses some strongly liberal positions, his Mormonism assures there is a barrier beyond which he will not stray, and permits him to act as a restraining force upon more radical senators such as Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and gun-grabber Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). And Rep. Matheson is actually part of the "Blue-Dog Democratic Caucus", for Democratic lawmakers who are economically to the left, but are socially conservative.

Consequently, to promote greater unity and inclusivity within LDS ranks, I suggest the following definition of a "real" Mormon: If you are officially a member of the Church, and profess allegiance to the core doctrines of the Church, then you are a "real" Mormon. Your secular politics, Church activity, and temple worthiness will not be taken into account. This attitude will also encourage LDS members who stray into inactivity not to give up and leave the Church altogether. It will strengthen the greater LDS community.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reassurance that I am not alone in being a liberal Mormon! I really feel like I'm the only one in my ward. The rest practically kneel at the feet of Glen Beck. But me? I'm a faithful, active member, temple ordinance worker, and trying to love everyone else; just wondering what color glasses they're viewing the world through!