Friday, July 1, 2011

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!! with "Strange Exhibitions of Feeling"

President George Q. Cannon gave a pretty good run-down on the Latter-Day Saints and politics more than a hundred years ago:
The discussion of politics has brought to the surface many strange exhibitions of feeling among members of the Church. Such exhibitions would have been deemed incredible a short time ago. Many have yielded to a spirit that produces anything but harmony and love, and there is considerable danger that this agitation may almost prove too strong an ordeal for the faith of many. . . .
Well. . . apparently not much has changed. The whole quote is at Keepapitchinin which I heartily recommend.

The context in 1892 was that Utah was preparing for statehood (as it had been for about 40 years). It took Utah a long time to become a state for a lot of reasons which we won't go into now, but one of them was the concern of the US Congress about the LDS Church's influence in politics. In territorial days a two-party system developed in Utah but it wasn't with the traditional, national parties. The Liberal Party was made up of the non-Mormons and the People's Party was the Mormon Party. Leaders of the LDS church wanted to see a broader diversity of political activity to avoid any claims that the church controlled politics, so they "assigned" members of the church in Utah to be either Republicans or Democrats (That is so funny on so many levels, yet the only practical thing they could have done!) The Utah non-Mormons more naturally divided along the national party lines as their "Liberal" party became irrelevant. I suppose a cynic could say that the church still wanted to control politics in both mainstream parties, but for a hundred years after, Utah was a swing state electing Mormons and those of other faiths and a pretty fair balance of Democrats and Republicans to local and national offices reflecting national trends.

While there was certainly LDS influence in Utah politics as it was the "dominant" culture, just as Southern Baptists influence in Texas and Catholics in New Mexico (and parts of Texas), the LDS Church was never able to completely control local politics or the state's position on national issues. For instance, LDS Church President Heber J. Grant was heart-broken when he learned that Utah had voted to repeal Prohibition. And in those days, Mormons were the clear majority of voters.

So, jumping quickly to the present, we see what appears to be an odd return to a serious Mormon/non-Mormon political split with all those "strange exhibitions of feeling." It is more perception than reality as so many don't recognize the many Mormon Democrats in the state (because we try to keep a low profile so we don't get yelled at by our families or neighbors at church). Even on the more "liberal," side of politics, people generally assume that all Mormons are Republicans, forgetting all about the Mathesons, Harry Reid from Utah's neighboring state to the sinful west, and the smattering of good-guy and gal Mormon Dems here and there in state and local government. I suppose it's also easy to conclude those guys and gals must not be "good" Mormons, but I don't really understand (putting aside all the mote and beam issues) why all the "good" Mormons are so willing to violate the Constitutional prohibition on "no religous test." US Const. Art. VI, Clause 3 (look it up).

And here's the spirit of President Cannon continuing in modern LDS Church policy:
The church does . . . Expect its members to engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner, respecting the fact that members of the Church come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences of opinion in partisan political matters. From Official Statement on Political Neutrality.
During the last presidential election year, the First Presidency issued a letter to members of the LDS Church in Utah to encourage them to participate in their local political party caucuses:
Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in the platforms of various political parties. We encourage members to attend their precinct caucus meetings. From First Presidency Letter on Utah Political Caucuses, March 2010.
I attended my caucus meeting pursuant to encouragement. Because there were only four of us there (one other being my son. My wife had gone to the much bigger caucus down the hall where more than 90 were in attendance), I ended up as a delegate to the County Convention and they credentialed all of us there to go to the State Convention. (My wife did not seek credentials, yet faithfully stayed until the last vote when the tea-partiers finally wore down the others to send an anti-Bennett slate to that party's conventions.)

Some even within the LDS Church suggest with a "hint, hint, wink, wink" that all the political neutrality business is just to avoid problems with taxes as a church. I wonder, though, if those aren't like some of the "strange exhibitions of feeling" that caused concern to President Cannon.

One way or the other, we ought to be free from those "strange exhibitions" of whatever source or form. And, of course, we still have the freedom not to exhibit them ourselves. God bless America! (along with all the rest of the world!) Happy Independence Day!

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