A Mormon liberal

So, I’m on Facebook, and a friend of mine sends me a link to an article in Meridian magazine, with the title “Are you a liberal Mormon?” The friend who sent it also added this: “Warning.  This is really bad.”  Meridian‘s taken the article down now, and posted a lovely apology, pointing out that James E. Faust was also a Mormon liberal.  Good for them.  In that spirit, I’m not going to quote from it, nor mention the author’s name.

I’d rather approach this positively.  I am a Mormon liberal.  Here’s why:

I am a Mormon liberal because I believe the greatest task of civil government is to alleviate, and if possible even eliminate poverty. And I am a Mormon liberal because the greatest talk ever given by a government official on the eradication of poverty is found in Mormon scripture, in Mosiah 4: 16-19, in a talk given by a King named Benjamin.

I am a Mormon liberal because I believe, like Joseph Smith, that the glory of God is intelligence.  And that therefore another great task of government, equal to and aligned with the first, is comprehensive public education, seeking wisdom out of the best possible books (see D&C 88:79).  And that we can and must allow every child the opportunity to dream big, and achieve his or her dreams.

I am a Mormon liberal because I believe that abortion is not so much a crime or a sin, as it is a terrible, terrible tragedy.  And that rather than criminalize abortion, we would be better served by lending poor women a helping hand out of poverty and despair.  That the best evidence suggests that such programs as paid maternity leave, help with childcare and transportation, availability of health insurance sufficient to provide pre-natal care and to allow women to have their children in medically safe environments are all much more likely to reduce instances of abortion than punitive laws and moralizing rhetoric.

I am a Mormon liberal because I love the prophet Joseph Smith’s campaign for President. I love his advocacy for prison reform, for example.

Petition your state legislatures to pardon every convict in their several penitentiaries, blessing them as they go, and saying to them, in the name of the Lord, go thy way and sin no more. Advise your legislators when they make laws for larceny, burglary or any felony, to make the penalty applicable to work upon roads, public works, or any place where the culprit can be taught more wisdom and more virtue; and become more enlightened. Rigor and seclusion will never do as much to reform the propensities of man, as reason and friendship. Murder only can claim confinement or death. Let the penitentiaries be turned into seminaries of learning, where intelligence, like the angels of heaven, would banish such fragments of barbarism. Imprisonment for debt is a meaner practice than the savage tolerates with all his ferocity. “Amor vincit amnia.” Love conquers all.

I am a Mormon liberal because the first prophet of this dispensation, the Prophet Joseph Smith, in his official platform statement while running for President of the United States would say, about incarcerated prisoners, convicted felons: “love conquers all.”  Wow.

I am a Mormon liberal because when running for President, Joseph Smith, on every major issue of the day, took the most liberal possible position.  The constitutionality of public works?  The liberal position was in favor of it; that’s where Joseph was. Slavery?  The liberal position was for compensated emancipation: Joseph’s stance on the issue.  A national bank?  Liberals for, conservatives against: Joseph was for it.

I am a Mormon liberal because I think government is basically good, that government, in a democratic republic, is . . . us. Not some entity out there, some hostile controlling autocratic leviathan, but our elected representatives, doing the best they can. That government is the expression of our hopes and dreams and aspirations.  That it’s a good thing to build roads and bridges and rail lines and schools and fire stations and power plants and sewage treatment plants, all of which the private sector won’t do because there’s no profit involved, but all of which make free markets possible.

I am a Mormon liberal because I love State Street in Orem.  State Street in Orem is sort of famously tacky, with hundreds of small businesses on either side–I think it’s magnificent.  Individual people, who get the idea that they can provide a service and make money and support their families by selling . . . sprinkler systems.  Or plumbing supplies.  Or philly cheese steaks.  Or by repairing car tires.   I love that.  Free enterprise, freely engaged in by a free and independent people. And without anyone planning it that way, the towns of Provo and Orem have about the number of sprinkler system stores as are needed.  The genius of free markets, in a functioning democracy.  And yes, that’s a liberal notion, and a liberal achievement.

I am a Mormon liberal because when I was a kid–high school age–there were three major political issues that everyone talked about all the time: civil rights, women’s rights, and the war in Vietnam.  Some fairly prominent Church leaders took vocal public stands on those three issues with which I disagreed. I think that history has demonstrated how some of those publicly stated opinions have turned out not to be true.  I do not believe that any Church leaders would make the same arguments today that some did then.

For example, I do not believe Church leaders today would argue that the War in Vietnam was good, righteous and necessary, part of a larger fight against the domino-like effect of international communism. This argument was, however, made forty-plus years ago.  This persuades me that Church leaders are fallible human beings, who sometimes hold to political views deriving, in part, from the culture they’re from.  And that it’s okay sometimes to disagree with them.

I am a Mormon liberal because, regardless of politics, I have gay friends and gay family members, and they are wonderful people.  And some have married and adopted children, and their families are awesome.

I am a Mormon liberal because I was raised in a home that treasured learning, and taught by local Church leaders who were prominent scientists.  I don’t believe that what my religion teaches me necessarily conflicts with what science teaches me.

I am a Mormon liberal because it really does take a village (Primary, Young Men, Young Women) to raise a child.

I am a Mormon liberal because doubt is a powerful force for good in this world, and searching intelligent questions are required for us to grow.

I am a Mormon liberal because, honestly, I don’t get polygamy and never will.  And because one of the happier days of my life was when President Kimball announced the revelation on priesthood.

I am a Mormon liberal because the Eighth Article of Faith opens to my mind the possibility that the Bible need not be understood entirely literally, and because 2 Nephi 29: 10-12 suggests that our Heavenly Father has inspired many books of scripture, some of which have yet to appear, and that many many books can function scripturally in the cultures in which they appear including, possibly, the Qur’an, the Mahabarata, the Tao Te Ching, and others.

I am a Mormon liberal because while I appreciate the King James version of the Bible for its prose, the Revised Standard version’s easier to understand, and is probably more accurate.

I am a Mormon liberal because I knew Eugene England, and am not ashamed to say that I loved the man. And because the Church is as true as the gospel.

I am a Mormon liberal because of  The Backslider.  And The Farley Family Reunion. And Children of God. And Fires of the Mind.  And Honorable Mention.  And Under the Cottonwoods and Other Mormon Stories.  And Love Chains: Stories, and “God on Donahue.”  And Hancock County.  And Take the Mountain Down.  And fifty other wonderful dramatic and literary works by brilliant Mormon authors.

And I am a Mormon liberal because of Terryl Givens and People of Paradox and When Souls had Wings.  And Juanita Brooks and Leonard Arrington and John Dehlin and Hugh Nibley and Joanna Brooks.  And Richard Lyman Bushman.  And Fawn Brodie.  And so many other brilliant minds who have enriched our culture with their insight and wisdom.

I am a Mormon liberal because the Founding Fathers either owned slaves or figured out how to be okay with slavery, which makes them something less than quasi-prophet-type figures, though obviously they were a very bright buncha guys.  And the best parts of the Constitution they wrote are the General Welfare clause, the Bill of Rights (except for the 2nd Amendment, which is just sort of weird and unnecessary), and the Amendment process; subsequently Amendments 13-17, 19, 24, and 26.

Most of all, though, I am a Mormon liberal because I believe, as our prophets all have, in the unlimited expansion of human possibility, the unlimited potential of human intelligence, the unlimited power of the human imagination.

I am a Mormon liberal because the King Follet sermon expands my mind.

I am a Mormon liberal because private compassion by itself, private charity alone, have historically demonstrated their inadequacy to minister to the least of those among us.  To do more, to achieve more, to help more, the resources of government are essential.  And for our culture to expand its own horizons, we need to expand our capacity to think for ourselves. Free up our communal energies, and let the great work commence.



87 thoughts on “A Mormon liberal

    1. Dallin Durbano

      Ya it was pretty bad.

      Interesting, but bad. It takes guts to post something like this and I can respect that. Totally respect the right to opinion as well but readers, don’t take this as anything more. I’d politely push the author on several points if I could.

      Unfortunately, that’s been made impossible. So everyone else is aware, the author (perhaps unknowingly) used a debate tactic called “overloading.” In lamans terms it’s also been called a “rant.” Small children, or the emotionally unbridled, are good at these. It happens when so many different points are made in an attempt to overwhelm any possible effective counter-response. I politely suggest to all readers NOT to assume the author is correct due to lack of counterpoints. If you think about it: if he was right, would he need to overload the readers to get his point across? nope. This author is not interested in changing his mind or seeing things different but in changing others’ to see it his way. We see it sooo often on the internet now-a-days. Then when there’s no counterpoints, it only confirms to readers that “he’s right!” because no defense was made. This man can’t be called an honest seeker of truth, and that’s the truth. And truth is all that really matters. Let it be known that there is one truth, no matter what the topic, that’s right for everybody. If not then that’s like saying God’s not for everybody (God is all truth), and that’s just stupid.

      Readers please see what is really happening here. This man thinks he’s right, and wishes everyone else to see it his way.

      1. Anonymous

        Wow, I didn’t see it before, but I think you are right about this. Brother Samuelson does appear to be giving his PERSONAL OPINION in a way that suggests that he thinks that it is the right one. This wouldn’t be so bad if this were just any site, but this is the author’s personal blog, where personal opinions by people who think they are right have no place.

        Thank you for calling this out, and for putting your analysis in “lamans terms” for those of us who lack your training (or are inclined to murmur against our fathers). I only hope that your critique is able to nip this sort of thing in the bud. What would the Internet be like if everybody who had a blog started expressing their opinion and thinking that they were right?

        1. juliathepoet

          My favorite comment of the day Anonymous! I had someone call me out, on my blog, for encouraging people to think, ponder and pray for their own answers before voting. I was amazed to find out that there is only one correct choice for God, and that He channels that through the Republican Party, so no thoughts or prayers were necessary, to “vote with God.” (I never did get an answer about which state and county God was registered in, but the commenter was kind enough to let us know that the reason Europeans are going to hell, us because God no longer “exists in their governments.” 😉

      2. admin Post author

        Others posters have responded effectively to your criticism. As a matter of clarification, let’s be clear–I did not engage in ‘overloading,’ nor did I ‘rant.’ I expressed an opinion. That’s allowed in civilized discourse.

  1. juliathepoet

    I managed to miss the article, and am grateful for its impetus in creating the beautiful post. Thank you!

    I’m proud be be a liberal Mormon, and to be able to have this as a quick reference, to explain what that means. 🙂

  2. Cheryl Purnell

    I hope you don’t mind that I am going to share this because it is an amazing response. It exemplifies why I myself am a liberal Mormon and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The only thing you neglected to mention that I would have included is President Youngs’ Proclamation on the Economy.

    1. juliathepoet

      Cheryl, it has been years since I read that, not since junior year of seminary. It did a lot to influence my thinking at the time, although not in the way that the boy whose father sent in for his devotional intended.

      Anyone have a quick link?

  3. Margaret Blair Young

    Wonderful, Eric. I did read the article this morning and entertained bad thoughts of which I am still repenting. You’ve wrung a poignant testimony out of her sundry attacks–which is like sucking honey from a coconut shell. Well done.

  4. Teri Lyn

    You have restored my faith in the possibility of intelligent discourse and in the notion that there are many, many ways to define “good people” without referencing bikinis and iced tea. You have touched my heart and my mind–and not because I agree with everything you say and believe, but because you are compassionate and knowledgeable and, because you are those things, very humble. Many blessings. And please continue to be the voice of love and light

  5. catsissie

    I did read the reposted article (and replied), but nothing I could say could top this! If I hadn’t already been a liberal Mormon and a feminist, you’d have totally convinced me to be. Now, what office were you planning to run for? I’m in CA, so if it’s not national, I’ll support you the best I can. If it is, I’ll also vote for you. NOW!!!

  6. Ashley

    Love this. The first article was shocking and completely judgmental. Thank you for writing such a great response without attacking anyone else. These words make me happy and feel good… very unlike the first article.

  7. Becki Linstrot

    Thank you for this response even though I didn’t see or read the original article. Your words what is in my soul.

    I was raised to be a feminist by a single mother with 4 kids in the 1960’s & 1950’s. I joined the church in 1992 & 2 things highly influenced me. The first time I went to church in Southern California I felt I had walked into the Rainbow Coalition and coming from a very ethnically diverse family I felt very comfortable. Then when I learned about the Celestial Kingdom I realized that this church is the most feminist church on the face of the earth. Most of my friends think I am nuts because they think feminism is about making women more powerful than men. But true feminism is about men and women being equal. Well that is how you get to the Celestial Kingdom, a husband and wife as equal partners. He can’t drag her by her hair and she can’t chase him in with a rolling pin.

    So thank you again and I will definitely be sharing this. I only hope others read it.

    I would like to ask that you post references or links for the writings and/or talks that you write about. I am not familiar with many of them and would love to read more.

  8. Anonymous

    I certainly enjoyed your writing…I really appreciate your opinion..even though I may disagree with it…Thank you for sharing…I tend to lean conservative..but I do believe there is room for middle ground on many issues if politicians would understand that…and accept that instead of being selfish…

  9. JDL

    I’m proud to be a Mormon conservative and still believe about 90% of what you said, perhaps thinking of the same issues in a slightly different light but not by much. My issues are “liberalism” is how they transfer responsibility for person actions onto the shoulders of others–including the unborn child. As a conservative, I believe the responsibility for my actions and choices belongs with me, not with someone else or the general populace. And I will always be against Communism or Socialism which forces people to be good. Sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? Wasn’t that Satan’s plan?

    1. LCSW

      The concept of personal responsibility is hardly monopolized by conservatives. Yet, the argument of using personal responsibility as an excuse to turn your backs to those in need seems to have been monopolized by conservatives.

      I guess you don’t believe the part where King Benjamin says that if you refuse to help someone because they have done it to themselves (resenting the burden being put on your shoulders), you have no desire for the kingdom of God?

      I’m sorry if I sound angry. But I work with people living in poverty and I can assure you, they are suffering because of their choices. Some conservative’s incessant need to justify their own lack of concern really, really makes my blood boil. It’s where I am in need of repentance. Because your rhetoric makes me feel very, very angry.

      1. Mel Tungate

        Conservatives often hate individual responsibility. They object to the individual responsibility to take care of their own health costs ( individual mandate ), they want to have Uncle make women’s health choices, want Uncle to decide that women can’t get birth control, and want the state to control what happens in every bedroom in America. Shameful.

        1. scott

          What an idiotic statement – should have moved on beyond 2nd grade Conservatives don’t want to be told about individual mandate by government because they don’t think the government should be involved at all. Kind of like the founding fathers . . .

          1. Mel Tungate

            Hi, Scott. I forwarded your comment to the Heritage Foundation, and to Newt Gingrich, both arch conservatives of the first order, and two of the individual responsibility section greatest spokesman. They indeed agree that even a 2nd grader would understand the true nature of conservative principles are for each individual have the ultimate responsibility to take care of themselves. They were well pleased that you understood this in your second grade comment, but were someone appalled by your “idiotic” section.

            They think you might have mixed up conservatism with libertarianism, but are not sure.

            They were also pleased that you understand well the nature of our founding fathers who understood, more than we do, that we are in things together, and if we don’t hang together we might hang separately.

    2. admin Post author

      I’m much more interested in finding common ground than in polarized discourse. I quite agree with you about the importance of personal responsibility.

  10. David

    Wonderful thoughts, Eric. I am a Mormon liberal (albeit a fickle and inconsistent one) precisely because I believe in agency. My understanding of freedom is derived directly from Lehi: to be free, to be an agent unto oneself, is to have the capacity to act rather than to be acted upon. When any child of God lacks the capacity to act–to explore the full range of their divine potential–because they are malnourished, or lack access to healthcare, or lack the capacity to see the value of things that cannot be bought or sold for money, their capacity to act as agents unto themselves is diminished.

    1. EJW

      Yes, yes, yes!!!! I agree 100%. Yes, people need to take action for themselves, but sometimes the action they are responsible for is finding the help they need to get back up on their feet (or on their feet for the first time ever) because they CANNOT do it themselves. Both personal responsibility and support from the group go hand in hand.

  11. Anonymous

    All the great amount us are so because of the opportunities created by those around them and they are greatful for it. Community is not force, it is an environment of opportunity. Satan’s problem was he thought he could do it all by himself while our Savior knew we would have to do our part.

  12. DJP

    I just went to Europe and had to tell you all, even though I don’t know you. I guess that makes me *extremely* liberal.

    Sounds like Joni has everything figured out. Next up: Middle East peace.

  13. Faggiolaccio

    Just a few points I want to point out, I agree with the majority of your points but do not believe that the vehicle to accomplish these humanitarian deeds is our government, which is just as subject to human greed as we are. The thing that intrigues me about your article here is how you profess again and again how you believe in the Prophet Joseph Smith, you believe in a national bank because he supported it or you believe other things because he did. But later on you state that church leaders are fallible human beings and took stances with which you disagreed and so it was ok disagree with them “sometimes”. That seems to be a little easy, you can pick and choose which things you like and discard what you don’t. I hope you will pardon me for saying but it seems to dance along the line of mingling scripture with the philosophy of men. Please do not take this as an attack or that I am an Internet troll, I am truly interested in hearing your rationale for this. And please let us remember that contention is of the devil. So “heatedly” debating the doctrines became a great stumbling block to many of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. So before you and others reply please remember that I have written this as a fellow believer and hope for replies from Brothers and Sisters whether or not we agree.

    1. admin Post author

      Thanks so much for commenting. I want to treat your response as respectfully as you treated my original post.
      I believe, as Elder Uchtdorf recently articulated, that the Brethren are fallible men, capable of making mistakes. I believe that we can and should think political questions out for ourselves, and that when the Brethren speak out on political issues, it’s possible to disagree without falling into apostasy.
      In the case of Joseph Smith, the political issues of 1844 are not the political issues we face to day. You mention a national bank–that’s really a settled issue, is it not? Nobody today wants to go back to the banking practices of 1844, in which every bank in the country issued its own currency, for example. We have a single national currency, and I think that’s here to stay, and a very good thing too. Joseph was ahead of the curve back then–today, we’re barely aware that having a national currency was ever controversial. I was merely pointing out that then, as now, issues were aligned along ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ lines, and that Joseph Smith unerringly took the most liberal possible position, given the times in which he lived. In fact, I’m a bit alarmed by his prison reform proposal. I’m in favor of prison reform, but, really, empty every state penitentiary? Really? Doesn’t that seem, I don’t know, a trifle . . . naive?
      But that’s my point. On many issues, I agree with him–on some, I think he went too far. But Joseph Smith’s entire program, as, for example, Mayor of Nauvoo (the biggest city in Illinois, as you’re no doubt aware), had to do with education, and the eradication of poverty. I think we should make those our priority too.

      1. jrod

        Others could cite more politically conservative prophets and might discount your examples of liberalism from Joseph Smith with your “sometimes it is ok to disagree with leaders” idea. Seems like Faggiolaccio is wondering your take on when to listen to which leaders.

        I don’t take the post to argue that every mormon should be politically liberal (correct me if that was your intent), but rather that it is reasonable and faithful for a mormon to ascribe to liberalism and you are one example of that. And reasonable and faithful for other mormons to arrive at conservatism.

        Mainstream conservative mormons seem to have a much harder time making a place in their minds for faithful and reasonable liberals than vice versa.

  14. Mandy

    Thank you! I can’t wait to share this with my friends. I read the article in Meridian Magazine a few days ago and was sickened. This is a healing balm.

  15. Kathleen Brown

    I am a Mormon liberal….I also believe in the power, responsibility, and right to bear arms…during Joseph Smith’s time (from which you quote) there were so many countries (including our own) where much of the populace was subject to the rule and control of those given authority who enforced their laws with arms… Joseph lived a few generations removed from a time when a few brave souls stood up (with their arms) and said “no more”. Around the world today there are people dying by the thousands because they have no means to protect themselves, their families, and their countries. I would never want this to happen in my own beloved country of the United States. There is one country in the world where there is very little crime…Switzerland….why…because every single home has an automatic weapon and every adult is trained in its use….I am not advocating this for our country, but I think that it is horrifying that many advocate removing the right for Americans to bear arms….the horror that a few misguided individuals have perpetrated upon a few innocents is nothing compared to an entire country over run and countless maimed and killed. My husbands parent’s worked with the Cambodian Refugees when the nightmares of Pol Pot happened….I have a beautiful friend from Africa who ran for her life in her country and watched, helplessly while her entire family was murdered horribly….the scriptures teach love, yet they also teach that it is imperative for us to protect our liberty, our families, our country, and ourselves. I have lived in other countries…there is no place quite like ours….it is a treasure we have been given….use our arms(voting arms) to ensure that our children and their children have an inheritance here.

    1. Anonymous

      I served in Geneva Switzerland for 23 months and I never saw or heard of an automatic weapon in every home..It is clean and beautiful.

    2. Mel Tungate

      About 10% of the homes in Switzerland have guns, about 1/2 of what the US is. Government issued guns can be kept in the home, or in the armory – most of the Swiss choose the armory. Ammunition from the govt is kept sealed, and is inspected to make sure it stays sealed. To buy a gun requires a permit. Many guns, and types of guns, are prohibited.

      Furthermore, not every adult in Switzerland is trained in the use of guns.

      Other than these minor facts, your info on Switzerland is right on ( in case you do not understand sarcasm, nothing of what you said is correct ).

      And, their laws and rules have nothing to do with what we do here. What does this have to do with the original blog post?

  16. Laura

    Thank you! Proud to be a “Mormon Liberal” and grateful for this thoughtful post. You probably don’t remember me but I was in byu theater program, same time as Dave Nelson, Jamie Parker Nelson, Laura Wardle.. While you were writing. I think I worked on one of your shows. Just found this blog from another post in Mormons For Obama. Thank you! Your beautifully written declaration is just what I needed today!!

  17. scott

    This is the kind of mentality that has no basis in fact or reality. It is like jumping off of a cliff and being wildly infatuated with the freedom of flight and the feeling of zero gravity, soaring above the beautiful landscape and crying over the lovely sunset until…….splat – you hit the reality of the ground. Release the prisoners – they will re-offend. Take care of the poor – who will pay for it. Just open your bank account to all who want to take from it. Government is forever growing like an insidious weed. Our founding fathers knew this and attempted to control it. The problem is that liberals have no respect for the founding fathers or our founding documents. What is wrong with the Mormon churches approach to social issues? We have a welfare program, we have a storehouse system that is administered by good people and works well. This article is written by someone who would school the prophet. Open the coffers of the church and give every cent to anyone who needs it / wants it. Open all the temples and chapels to the homeless. Bring them all of your earnings and food – it will be beautiful and you will rejoice in the freedom of flight…….

    1. Laura

      Scott, I had to read your reply twice because I couldn’t be sure you had actually read his original post.. And then I realized you did and were snared by the “you couldn’t possibly respect the Founding Fathers” lifeline. Have you not learned from experience that is usually a dialogue killer? I may not worship those men …( I don’t have a painting of them kneeling with captain Moroni in my living room, and I tend to quote prophets, mostly living prophets in my talks at church), but we, Mormon Liberals, do respect and value their contribution to this great nation. And we revere that constitution with as much patriotic gusto as you do, but we are free to interpret that document with are God given gifts, are we not? And if that interpretation looks somewhat different than yours, is that not a benefit for all involved?

      One more thing… As a recently released stake Rs president I can tell you that if all the members of the church in the u.s who are being supported by church welfare were not also helped by government programs.. The church would have been bankrupt years ago. The bishops in my stake rely on those programs to help out those in need because those fast offerings are not sufficient. I am grateful for government, especially ours. You don’t have to travel too far beyond our borders to be grateful for that “too big government.”

    2. admin Post author

      I would ask that you keep the conversation civil on my blog. I respect the view of conservatives; I would rather engage in thoughtful discourse than name calling.

    3. alesia

      Scott, Laura is right. The church welfare program works very closely with state and local governments to provide assistance to those in need. I’d invite you to look at what the church does to help the homeless in SLC. You’ll see how they partner with government agencies.

  18. Daniel Silva

    Thank you for you post. I have never believed that being a liberal was incompatible with being a devout Latter-Day Saint. I also agree with 90% of what you say, but yet I tend to be center-right on most issues. Both sides are too emotional and prefer talking points over civilized dialogue. Thank you for being civilized and not calling my side names. I think for the most part we have the same goals. However, as a conservative I personally believe that government often does more harm than good when trying to solve a problem. It doesn’t mean that the people involved are not well-intentioned or by any means ‘evil.’

  19. Rayetta Croft

    Thanks for your post, I thought it was very well written, and I appreciate your point of view. I don’t really consider myself a conservative or a liberal, because I tend to agree with some things on both sides. My question to all of you is, what do you think of what is going on now under liberal leadership? I know all of the following examples are bipartisan, the conservative party under Bush made little attempt to hide their contempt for the Bill of Rights. I just wonder if now, that these things have been embraced by both parties in Washington, are you as liberals, bothered by any of it? Here are some examples:

    We have mass, warrentless surveillance by the NSA-
    Our drones are killing hundreds of innocent people in the Middle East,
    We are in a near constant state of warfare (undeclared).
    Journalists and whistle-blowers are being targeted and punished for telling the truth.
    The Obama admin has continued the practice of torture, and the killing, even of American citizens, without charges or trials, etc., etc.

    Aren’t all of these things that liberals profess to be against, or is the definition of liberal evolving with the times? It seems to me that philosophically, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the two major parties… am I wrong?

    I’m sorry if that sounded a little like a rant, it honestly isn’t intended to be taken that way, I sincerely want to know.

    Anyway, thanks again for your post and I’d love to get your take on the above issues.

    1. admin Post author

      I am appalled by the erosion of civil liberties in our country. In fact, as a playwright, I have a play currently in production in SLC that is about that very subject. I respect some of the policies of President Obama–I do not support all of them, and especially the ones you cited.

    2. juliathepoet

      Ratters Croft,

      For me, the fact that both major American political parties are not addressing many of those issues, and their are parts of both party platforms that I don’t, (and can’t see that changing) agree with, is why I think that it is important to distinguish between Democrats and Liberal ideology, and Republicans and conservative ideology. I am not a member of either party, and I don’t fully subscribe to either ideology, but recent history has shown that neither party is really based in the ideology they are aligned, or “loosely associated” with, either.

  20. starbugary

    Thank you for sharing this. I read the article in Meridian and it was as offensive and awful as everyone is reporting. Laden with assumption and judgement, incorrect assumptions. This is a perfect response and I hope that the author of the Meridian peice will read this, maybe someone should send it her way? I am an LDS Liberal and proud of it!

  21. Jordan

    What does any of this have to do with being liberal? A revelation that black people are OK too, about a decade after the rest of the country does not make you “liberal”.

  22. Abe

    I don’t know you, but I saw this in my Facebook news feed. I have no problem with liberals (I’m quite liberal myself, in many aspects), but I do have a problem with the implicit message here. To say you are liberal because of Mosiah 4 is to imply that people who aren’t must not. I think it’s important to recognize that people who disagree with you on the government’s role in assisting the poor still want to help the poor. They just believe it can best be achieved by different means. It’s okay to disagree with the other side, but don’t assume it’s because they don’t share your values. My view is that government programs designed to help the poor actually hurt the poor and create more poverty. My view is different than yours but is built on the same value of helping the poor. I could just as easily say you don’t care about helping the poor because you don’t support my view, but I know that’s not the case.

    A similar point can be made about the second item on your list–education–as well as for most of the rest of them. People can believe the glory of God is intelligence, that education is good, and still disagree with public education. Again, you are making a fallacious leap in your logic–assuming that if you value education, you must believe in the same methodology you believe in.

    I think liberals make fine Latter-day Saints, and I also think we could accomplish our mutual goal of helping people in need more readily if we stop assuming the other side doesn’t share our value. We need more logical argumentation about methods, and less pointing fingers over morality.

    1. Mel Tungate

      Oh, Abe, I surely agree with you. Just yesterday, I was reading in Matthew 25, where it says

      37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

      40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, if you feed the hungry, they will become dependent, and there will be more poverty.’”

      And, we surely know that we need to educate only those who can pay for it. We know that the rich go to the very front of the kingdom of God – yep, I was reading that just this morning in Matt 19:23.

      I surely know that we want to quit giving away the federal bucks to states, so immediately we need to change taker states like Utah, and cut back federal funds by 1/2, and give that money to the maker states like CA. Let the people of Utah double their taxes to pay for their own stuff. Surely, you agree, with your objectivism politics. I am sure the religious leaders in Utah will agree with you – the Church of Ayn Rand of Latter-day Takers will surely applaud your objectivism.

      Of course, I am Mormon, so I completely disagree, but I surely do respect your right to say whatever you want.

        1. Mel Tungate

          Abe, you didn’t upset me at all – I think you clearly stated your views. I am just loving finding support for them in the scriptures.

          /sarcasm off

          We either believe Christ, or we don’t. That is much harder than believing in him. Joseph Smith had a very liberal theology for his time, and for this time. So did most others of our early leaders.

          1. Rayetta Croft

            I think you may be painting conservatives into a corner. It’s true that some on the right have given themselves a terrible reputation with their hateful rhetoric. I don’t think though, that Abe is one of those. I believe that the government (specifically the Federal Gov’t) is incapable of taking care of the poor in any meaningful way. They have proven themselves to be unwise stewards of our money ($17 trillion in debt, plus over a hundred trillion in unfunded liabilities) We have a large economy and have been able to absorb it for several decades, but the breaking point will come, it has to, then who will take care of the poor?

            I don’t think the notion that taxing the people to take care of the poor can be proven by an appeal to the scriptures. In fact, every time the word tax is used in the Book of Mormon, it’s in a derogatory way. In our system, the poor surely get a little, but it’s just crumbs in comparison with what the politically connected get. With the amount that comes into the federal coffers, there should be absolutely no poor among us, and yet poverty is at an all time high. A good portion of our money goes to waging illegal wars, and lining the pockets of the politicians, the lobbyists, large corporations, foreign banks and dictators (think Egypt).

            Government always favors the wealthy. Look what happened with the housing crisis. Was it the poor people (those who lost their homes) who got the bailout? No, it was the filthy rich bankers, many of whom caused the crisis, that got the tax-payer bailout. Another problem with the government as the provider is that they provide with borrowed and printed money. This causes inflation which hurts the poor and those on fixed incomes the most.

            Time and again we are commanded to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but it is an individual charge, for which we will be judged individually rather than as a collective. I don’t think in the day of judgement I will be asked “Did you vote to have your representative take by force what your neighbor has earned, so the hungry could be fed?” I will be asked what I, as an individual did to serve and bless the lives of others. Did I buy a giant house instead of paying a generous fast offering?

            I know that just trusting the people to do what is right is not perfect, because people aren’t perfect, but I think it’s a lot safer bet than trusting the legislator, who may talk a good talk, but is more often than not looking out for his own benefit above that of society.

            I don’t think government should be at all involved in welfare, but that said, I think a good compromise would be to get the federal government out, but keep the state and local programs. There is more accountability, transparency, and involvement when the money stays closer to the people.

            You probably aren’t reading this anymore, sorry for the novel, I tend to get carried away.

            I don’t know that this is precisely Abe’s position, but I thought I might try to defend him. I think that like you, his heart is in the right place.

    2. admin Post author

      I quite specifically did not write this post using the polarizing rhetoric we both of us, I think, find offensive. I never mentioned conservatism at all. In my experience, most of the principles I mentioned have bi-partisan support. I do not agree with you, however, that data support the notion that government aid harms those in poverty, nor with the idea that public education is in a current state of crisis. Those are subjects for further study and conversation.

      1. Mel Tungate

        Abe seems like a nice guy, as do you Rayetta, but I want to address only those things that were covered in the initial post – putting one’s belief ( in this case JSmith ) into political policy. In this case, he certainly did. In the case of most conservatives, they paint themselves in a corner – I don’t even have a paintbrush. Many ( not per se anyone in this conversation ) want their religion taught in science class, want to deny birth control to women, want to decide who can have sex with whom, want to have their religion say who can or cannot marry whom, and want to have govt decide what medical procedures can or cannot be carried out. Yet, many ( including Rayetta and Abe from what I read ) do not want govt to aid the poor. If that paints conservatives in a corner, so be it. J Smith is not in that corner with you.

        You both, from what I read, believe that the fed govt does not aid the poor efficiently, and that private donors or churches belong in the business. Well, the former is provably false, and the latter just is not happening, at least to the extent it needs to. Today, less than 5% of funds in our churches overall go to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. In the Mormon church ( my church too ), it is less than 1%. In some organizations, the Red Cross for instance, it is 97%. And, we know that during the recent recession that funds from all organizations to do their charitable work decreased, not increased, and decreased significantly. The simple fact is that charitable organizations, for all they do, are not up to the task of feeding the poor. We appreciate all they do, but what they do is woefully inadequate.


        1. Rayetta Croft

          You make the assumption that because I believe taking care of the poor is a personal responsibility and not the role of government, that I also believe gov’t should tell people how to run their personal lives. That is not the case (we weren’t talking about birth control, gay marriage or any of the issues you mentioned, but since you brought it up…) How are you any different from those conservatives that you deride? They may want to use the force of government to make people be moral in certain ways, but you want to use the force of government to make people be charitable. For the record, I don’t think either is the proper role of government, especially the Federal Government. We should all be “agents unto ourselves, that each of us may be held accountable for our own sins”. Government certainly has an important role to play, but I believe that role is to protect individual liberty.

    3. alesia

      I wish it was possible for the general population to help the poor effectively without government interference, but it’s not. The problem is that the general population, while very well intentioned, is not educated about the complex and daunting dynamics surrounding issues of poverty.

      In short, most people don’t know what poor people need or how to help them. They impose (with good intentions) their own values and culture mores, not realizing that the culture of poverty isn’t like their own cultures.

      This is why the government, as imperfect as it is, needs to intervene. And does intervene. It’s a flawed system, but at least it employs experts to do the job.

      I have a masters degree and have been working with people living in poverty (U.S. poverty) for nearly 20 years. The general population has all kinds of opinions about how to help the poor. I just wish they’d understand that they don’t really understand it. 🙂 I don’t mean this to be demeaning to the people at all. I don’t know much about anything except for this. We all have our strengths and different types of education. 🙂

  23. Doug Wendt

    Really quite remarkable. Thank you. Refreshingly honest, kind, and non-polemic. I am sorry to have missed “Nothing Personal” this weekend as well.

    Eric, you don’t know me, but I think you are such an important voice in the LDS community.

    I have to say, I’m surprised that Lowell Bennion didn’t make your list somewhere. Have you come across any of his essays? Thoughts?

    1. admin Post author

      I have read some of Lowell Bennion’s essays, and know of his work by reputation. An unintentional omission.

  24. daryoung

    I think it’s important to remember that Eric was not writing on the subject of “Why Conservatives are Not Good Mormons,” but rather to answer the common belief (at least where I live) that a liberal cannot be a good Mormon. He was defending, not asserting. So many of us encounter an assumption on Sundays in Gospel Doctrine class that since we are all LDS, we are all Conservative. (In my ward it was an “acknowledgement of the mourning we are all experiencing for our country since the election.” Yeah, actually said in class.) I’m grateful for Eric’s always calm, reasoned, KIND discussions (I wish all political discussions could be this way).

    What it gets down to, IMO, is that good Mormon conservatives and good Mormon liberals simply disagree on what is the best way to help the poor, and on the ways that people should pay the price of belonging to a civilized community. I’m grateful when people respect each other’s motives (that of wanting to help and wanting to take responsibility) when they discuss their differences.

    From what I can tell about the original article, Hilton was not using “Liberal” so much in the economic sense but rather to indicate a position on the orthodoxy continuum.

  25. sincerely

    Your article made me sad for many reasons. Your arguments are flawed, your generalities are glaring, and your tone is derisive towards those you disagree with.
    First, government is not the eliminator of poverty; human beings being full of charity are the true eliminators of poverty. Liberals don’t have an exclusive hold on King Benjamin’s sermon. He was talking to the weak and strong, dumb and educated, political and lay, everyone who has given themselves to the Church of Christ and asking them to give of themselves. To leave this exclusively to the government is not only unchristian, but also not charity. Should the government step in in some instances? Yes, but to say that the governments are the quintessential institution for all poverty alleviation, is myopic at best.
    Your view of abortion is callous. To think that morals take a back seat to science and political ideology is folly. Also, I want to get your abortion position straight, any killing of any unborn fetus is not sinful or criminal? This is an extreme over generalization of a complex issue.
    Also, Liberal and Conservative values change daily. I wouldn’t entrench myself so deeply in one political ideology. Joseph Smith may have had a liberal view in his time, but we can’t pluck him from his age and generation and say that he would be like that in every moment of human history. We are products of societal normative values in our generation. That is why we have revelation in the tumult of political winds. I don’t even understand your use of Joseph Smith in your blog. As if Joseph Smith’s Presidential campaign puts a seal of approval on your political ideology?
    I could go on down your entire blog, but I don’t want to be patronizing. Your ideology is interesting to read, but please my brother, don’t argue false pretenses. You may be a Mormon liberal, but political ideology is unnecessary in the kingdom of God.

    1. admin Post author

      First, it’s hard to say that my tone is ‘derisive towards those I disagree with’ because, aside from a brief mention of the article that prompted this post, I never talk about those I disagree with. The focus was certainly intended to be positive, at least.
      Second, you say that political ideology is ‘unnecessary in the kingdom of heaven,’ but your response reveals a political ideology throughout. You say, “governments don’t eliminate poverty, individuals full of charity” do. But what is government (in a democratic republic) but a reflection of the people it serves? You make government sound like some foreign, external, controlling entity. It’s not. It’s us. It’s you and me, and the people we elect to represent us.
      In regard to abortion, I absolutely did not say, or even suggest, that morals take a back seat to science. I say abortion is a tragedy. There has never been a time in human history when women, desperate to terminate a pregnancy, haven’t tried to accomplish it. One of the main reasons is economic desperation. So let’s see, first, if we can work to solve that. Let’s figure out what works, and lo and behold, we learn that what works is also compatible with our best values.
      I quite agree that the issues of 1844 are not the issues of today. I do think there are fundamental governing principles we can learn and apply. I am a Mormon because I am a liberal, and I am a liberal because I am a Mormon. I don’t apologize for either.

      1. sincerely

        I have never written on a blog before, or any other type of opinion site, but your article was just too flawed to pass over. I’m really not trying to be mean, but you purport this article to be something it isn’t, and that frustrates my sensibilities for proper argumentation.

        All of your arguments are logical fallacies. All of your arguments are either red herrings, circular reasoning, false premises, or ad homonym.

        I love alternative views, but make sure before you express them, that they are logically sound.

        Sometimes, opinions are not based in logic, but more a personal intuition that can’t be expressed in logical format. I appreciate those who have courage to state that logic and reason fail them, rather than try to say they know logically, when their logic is sub-par.

        My biggest problem still is the fact that you imply that Liberal Mormons are somehow better than Conservative Mormons.

        Your entire premise for writing was some sort of diatribe against those opinions that are expressly opposite of your own. For this reason you have a derisive tone. You came from a place of reproach and disdain, and that carried into your writing.

        I’m sorry if my critique seems unfair, but logically your article is lacking, and your tone denotes the opposite of what you claim your article to be.

        1. admin Post author

          In point of fact, I quite specifically did not engage in ad hominem argumentation. Nor did I engage in circular reasoning, or offer up red herrings (which is to say, irrelevancies). I did, however, defend a position not often defended in our culture. May I suggest that that may be the source of your discomfort.

          1. sincerely

            You may be uncomfortable and defensive about my critique, but I think an educated look at your argumentation will show that ALL of those logical fallacies are either implicitly or explicitly in your article. To say that you haven’t is just denial.

            I apologize if I have upset you.

  26. Mary

    I too, think abortion is wrong. I agree with your position. What we miss in our discussion of abortion is the idea that the government should not have control over a woman’s reproductive rights at all. In our shortsighted indignation, we often forget that if a woman surrenders her reproductive rights to the State– she allows the State a power which could push another direction: maybe the powers-that-be will some day determine that people are having too many children and try to control family size through legislation. Maybe some day the State will decide that Mormons shouldn’t multiply– because they are undesirables. If we surrender our reproductive rights now– we will suffer in the future.
    Just as we protect freedom of speech, freedom of religion,and the right to bear arms, (while knowing that people will do things in the name of those rights that we despise,) we should protect reproductive rights as well.
    If one doubts this might happen, a quick look at recent history will confirm that this has happened. The government has acted in these ways during the last 50 years:forced sterilization of mentally ill, the poor, racial minorities, and on Indian reservations.
    Protecting a woman’s right to determine her own reproductive actions– whether we like what she does with them or not– is a matter of agency.
    And as Mormons, don’t we hold that allowing agency is the key to our mortal existence ?

  27. Ali

    We have many mutual friends and I hope I get the chance to meet/work with you someday, Eric. This is a beautiful post.

  28. juliathepoet

    Your response was also inspirational, and caused a good deal of self reflection. I’m lucky to have missed the article, and have been spiritually fed by several of my favorite blogger’s responses!

  29. Blaine Sundrud

    I echo all the support given here, but I would like to especially thank you for the mention of Eugene England. I first took a class from him as a freshman at BYU. His ability to show us that the hard decisions we face in life, the ones that have no clean, easy answer – were in fact the ones that would shape us for the future.

    While I was a missionary, I found I put as many comments in the margins of his book “Dialogues with Myself” as I did in my Old Testament.

    I went on to take 3 more classes from him (and I was not an English Major) simply because he was willing to stare down the hard questions – questions that had no tidy answers – and come out stronger on the other side. He helped a young boy struggling to find answers realize that that very struggle is what matters just as much as the answers themselves.

    I will miss that man.

    So again, I thank you for mentioning him. <>

  30. Lyn

    This article implies that “Mormon Liberals” have superior compassion. What good is such an “us vs. them” attitude. Doesn’t seem very compassionate to me.

    1. admin Post author

      It implies no such thing. I never mention conservatives at any time in it. To clarify, however, I don’t think liberals are more compassionate than conservatives. I’m not sure, though, that feelings of compassion are particularly important. What matters is making compassion effectual. Let’s focus there.

  31. Anonymous

    Thanks for this article, Eric. Since I don’t consider myself a Mormon liberal, this has been an excellent explanation of political beliefs and how they tie to Mormonism. I understand the point of view and the though process much better than any other article of liberal Mormons I’ve previously read.


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