Monday, November 12, 2012
Moving forward now that it's over
And yet, today I’m writing something more political. Now that the election is over and the nation is still on the map, I have some things I’d like to get off my chest.
First, I’d like my fellow church members to understand that if we do not agree politically, it does not mean that you or I are more or less faithful or enlightened. It just means we see the world differently. And because it’s possible that we see the world differently, we ought to make fewer assumptions about what views each of us espouses.
Second (and related to the first), please do not try to substantiate your political point of view by associating it with doctrinal truths. One side will argue that mandatory health care violates the doctrine of agency; another will argue that legislating morality does. Our political institutions, however inspired they may or may not be, are institutions of men. I believe it belittles divine institutions to assume that our political system is one of them.
Third, that is not to say that our religious views should not inform our political opinions. There is always a place for the gospel in every aspect of our lives, and we would be foolish to check our religion at the door in matters of governance. But there is also value in communicating our point of view in a way that allows all who hear us to understand; let us search for discourse that is inclusive not exclusive. In addition to holding a view because we believe God says we should, we would also do well to communicate that position in a way that it shows benefit even to a non-believer. Further, we may apply gospel teachings differently to our political views. One may take seriously the Savior’s injunction to care for the poor, and may believe that is a reasonable expectation of his government. Another may use the experience of the Nephites in the war chapters in the Book of Mormon to justify a military build-up.
Fourth, the scriptures do teach that our continent is blessed (or at least it was for the Nephites), and that our Constitution is inspired. That does not mean that every founding father was a religious Christian or was perfect. They were men with varied sensibilities about religion and government. Certain of our general authorities have made very political statements even during their service in the senior quorums of the church, but it is telling to me that even the most strident did not make those statements as president of the church. The official stand of the church today is not to prescribe political allegiance to a particular party or ideology. The great work of the constitutional convention was the crafting of a document that transcended strident political views, not one that established them. The resulting document was the product of compromise; it was not universally loved or even accepted (some members of the convention did not recommend ratifying it), but it has withstood the test of time.
Fifth, the international church is greater than American politics. There are faithful Latter-day Saints who practice their religion every day in countries with vastly different political systems from ours in the United States of America. They are no less worthy of God’s blessings than those who are fortunate enough to live here. Their forms of government are not inherently evil, so long as they allow the free exercise of the worship of God.
Finally, our two-party system tends to foster tension, a tension that can be healthy in restraining government from acting too quickly, and, conversely, that can divide the electorate. In our history, we have had varying degrees of success in compromise and collaboration. It appears that in today’s political environment such compromise is far less likely. Personally, I find that a sad development. But whatever tension exists politically, it need not lead to contention in our lives. In an environment where political discussion devolves to position-taking and -defending, it unfortunately leaves little room for a free exchange of ideas with an eye toward discovery of a common path for the common good. On the other hand, discussions that seek learning and understanding (rather than proving and proclaiming) can be mutually beneficial.
I am not so naïve as to believe that political discourse will somehow rise above the bitter battles we have seen in the recent election. Most elections in our nation’s history have featured strong political talk – about issues and about personalities of those involved. But as Latter-day Saints who discuss political ideas with one another, we can also open our hearts and minds and respond to one another with civility and charity. At least I hope we can. And as we move forward after this election, we can still unite under our duly elected government and work together for common goals.
BTW, in a completely unrelated matter, you can read my latest post at Real Intent, "Distilling Knowledge," here.