Exploring the Intersection of Faith and Politics
I got involved in an accidental political discussion yesterday in a FaceBook forum devoted to Gospel study. Things got kind of testy (accusatory?) for a community that's committed to kindness and somebody, in an effort to calm the conversation, commented, "we need to be careful not to politicize religion."
I wanted to like the comment because I agreed with the sentiment. Let's not turn authoritative statements of religious leaders or texts into a weapon with which to push people into our political corner. But I left it alone because of undertones that suggest politics and religion need to stay at arm's length. About that, I disagree.
I'm all for the separation of Church and State. The power of the Church needs to be persuasive and non-compulsory (D&C 121:41-42), and the State is, by definition, coercive. It makes and enforces laws, while the Church teaches and encourages compliance with principles. A combination of the two creates coercive religion and destroys freedom of conscience.
But politics and religion are another matter. They're deeply personal. And they need to be connected. My devotion to Jesus Christ is at the core of my identity. It informs every aspect of my life, very much including my understanding of my duty to others. I can't shrug that off and set it aside when it comes to politics. And I shouldn't. Doing so would divorce my politics from my principles. Which seems to be a tendency that gives us scandalous headlines and an alienated electorate.
What I need to do is bring my political views into harmony with my understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the nature of man and the purpose of life. I need to think consciously and deeply about the principles at the root of every political decision. And my politics need to evolve as my understanding of the Gospel deepens.
What I find is that the more conscious I am about Christianizing my politics, the less defensive I feel and the more I come to appreciate the perspectives of people who see differently from me. I have come from a place of seeing political opponents as my enemies to the realization that, in most cases, we're both seeking pretty much the same end result. We just don't agree about how to get there.
My faith tradition has a name for the place I'm trying to get to. It's called Zion. It's a classless society where everyone is precious and their unique contributions are valued. Everyone enjoys equal privileges and we prosper together. There are no ghettos or marginalized groups. There are no contentions. We're united, not by compulsion but because we have actually, genuinely learned to love each other. It sounds like a socialist Utopia, but without the compulsion and with this significant difference: the glue that unites Zion is the love of God, freely chosen.
I know we've got a long way to go. And a lot to change. And I believe that one of the things we need to do in order to get there is to become capable of hearing and appreciating each other.
So here's my invitation: Let's talk here about the union of politics and religion, understanding that both are deeply personal. Let's share our unique perspectives with each other and explore the principles we hold in common and how they connect to differing political views. Let's listen to each other's concerns and experiences and, instead of pushing inconvenient realities aside, dig deeper in pursuit of a fuller understanding.
We're not going to agree with everybody's core principles, and that's okay because core principles are personal. Here are some of mine:
I believe that God calls and authorizes certain individuals as prophets, His spokesmen to the world. I believe that the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, his counsellors and the Quorum of the 12 Apostles are all prophets and that their counsel on issues of faith and their very occasional statements of political principles are from God. I don't think these men are perfect or infallible. But I'm prepared to accept as objectively true anything that comes in their united voice. And I will give deep respect and a general presumption of truth to their statements in authoritative contexts like the Church's twice-annual General Conference.
I believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and written for our day. Again, its record keepers were fallible human beings, so I don't think the book is perfect. But, in the words of Church founder Joseph Smith, it is "the most correct of any book written." I also believe the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price to be the word of God.
I believe in the rule of law as opposed to the rule of will. That is, I believe that everyone, including political leaders, must be subject to the law, that everyone must be equal before the law, that the law needs to be predictable and not retroactive. The law must never be a sword in the hands of lawmakers. It is a level playing field that allows people the freedom and predictability necessary for self-government.
I believe in limited government. I believe that the coercive powers of the state are delegated to the state by the people. And it follows that the government should not have the right to force upon the electorate what the people don't have a natural right to force upon each other.
I would like to post approximately one essay a day over the next little while exploring differing perspectives on the intersection of faith and politics. So, this is a call for thoughtful posts. Please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will select some that reflect a diversity of perspectives or thought-provoking questions. If I'm not able to use your post, I'll send it back and ask you to place it in comments.
Whether in comments or in submissions, please keep your language respectful. For example, whether or not you approve of the President of the United States, please call him President Trump or Mr. Trump or Donald Trump vs just Trump. And the same goes for former president Barak Obama etc. Please keep statements of belief personal (I believe vs. we believe) so that people don't feel like they don't belong if they don't agree. Please be respectful of each other's differences. This is not a place for diatribes against beliefs or individuals that others revere.
Now, as a starting place: yesterday, at Book of Mormon Central's Come Follow Me Facebook page, there were strong responses to this 1988 quote by Ezra Taft Benson:
"I testify that wickedness is rapidly expanding in every segment of our society. It is more highly organized, more cleverly disguised, and more powerfully promoted than ever before. Secret combinations lusting for power, gain, and glory are flourishing. A secret combination that seeks to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries is increasing its evil influence and control over America and the entire world.
If you believe that President Benson was a prophet and his warning was true, what do you feel is the best thing you can do in response to the danger of which he warned? Here's what I think:
I believe that one of the chief tools used by secret combinations is divisiveness. I think that a very few people of ill will are actively seeking to radicalize politics by demonizing others on both sides of the political fence. They're trying to get us to hate each other, because it's a short step from that to seeking each other's destruction. And I believe that a very large group of people of good will are their unwitting allies. I used to be among them. I bought the lies and I participated in distortions that whipped people up to defend themselves against an enemy that was real but tiny because its army was mostly smoke and mirrors.
I believe that the best way we can guard against the secret combinations is to lay down our hatred and reach across the divide to understand each other. I believe we need to talk through our principles, find common ground, and work together against the real enemy. We are not each other's real enemy. That's the secret combination. And we need to refuse to surrender our higher thinking powers to those who would use our anger as a weapon against us.
What do you think?