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.