Conservative/Liberal Mormons

I might as well add my voice to the chorus of self-congratulatory and/or other-condemning posts out there on the topic (I won’t link to them, though.  Well, I’ll link to this one, which is the only good one I’ve seen so far).

Orson Scott Card in his wonderful “Saintspeak” (which predates snarker sites by decades, and did it better than any of them – if any of them are still active) pretty much already came up with the definitive definitions:conservative Mormon 1. As perceived by a liberal Mormon: Someone with a completely closed mind who goes through the motions of obeying Church policies without ever understanding the spirit of the gospel. Conservative Mormons spout cliches about charity and then devote their lives to crushing out any sign of intelligence or compassion that dares to surface in the Church. 2. As perceived by another conservative Mormon: Someone who is dedicated to serving God in the manner God has prescribed, who therefore tries to keep his own life pure and help purify the Church to be worthy of the Lord’s approval at his Second Coming. Conservative Mormons listen attentively to the words of the Brethren and try to do all they are asked to do without presuming to second-guess the Lord’s chosen servants.

liberal Mormon 1. As perceived by a conservative Mormon: A Mormon who wants to pervert the gospel to fit the doctrines of men instead of waiting for the Brethren to receive revelations. Liberals talk about being guided by the Spirit but usually find that the Spirit is telling them to espouse currently fashionable American liberal causes and ideas. 2. As perceived by another liberal Mormon: A Mormon who believes that the Lord won’t give you any answers unless you ask him intelligent questions. Liberals believe that a Saint should be sensitive enough to recognize truth and humble enough to accept it whether it comes from the Brethren or Boethius, Newton or Nietzsche

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Personally, I find the labels some people so insist on to be a danger.  We should all be in the gospel together, rather than slapping on labels on ourselves and each other.  Loudly proclaiming yourself conservative or liberal, methinks, runs into the danger of “Mormonism and . . .” as illustrated by this quote from “The Screwtape Letters” (for those unaware, Screwtape is a devil dispensing advice on how to damn mortals):

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And”. You know — Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring.

I think too many people in the church are “Mormonism and Liberalism” or “Mormonism and Conservatism” rather than just Mormons.  It’s nice, I suppose, to be able to claim that the gospel can be mingled wholesale with current philosophies.  However, as Orson Scott Card once said in a speech given at BYU (at LTUE when LTUE was part of BYU), we all have multiple loyalties (say to capitalism, to a particular artistic community) – but at some point all of our other loyalties will conflict (to greater or lesser degrees) with the gospel.  We can choose to ignore or rationalize those conflicts away, but when we do that, we show that we’ve chosen the other philosophy over the gospel.

[This is not to condemn any specific person or particular post on this topic, though.  I honestly tire of people taking general points and assuming they are meant to attack specific people.  If I meant to attack a specific person, I would attack that specific person, trust me].

 

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About Ivan W.

Ivan Wolfe teaches rhetoric at Arizona State University. He has a PhD in English from the University of Texas - Austin, and a BA and MA in English (with minors in Classical Greek, Music, and Philosophy) from BYU. He has several credits on various Christmas albums aimed at the LDS market, several essays in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and various book reviews in academic and popular venues. He also competes in Scottish Highland Games and mud run/obstacle course races, and he can deadlit over double his bodyweight (his last PR was just shy of 500 pounds). He is currently married to Lisa Renee Wolfe. He has five kids and four stepkids.

12 thoughts on “Conservative/Liberal Mormons

  1. But what I want to know is, are you a liberal or conservative Mormon? Because if you’re either, I don’t want to hear anything you have to say. Why? Becomes I’m a libertarian Mormon. :)

  2. P.S. the above comment is not intended to be taken seriously. Just a way to show how both (or all) ‘sides’ can become extremely close minded when it comes to listening to what the other ‘sides’ say.

  3. Politically, I consider myself neither conservative nor liberal nor moderate. My own label is “disaffected” (I still vote, but I don’t have any loyalties to any party or politician).

    But saying I’m a disaffected Mormon would be extremely inaccurate. ;-)

  4. An explanation of my somewhat inclusive approach to Church members at large – meaning it’s not my job to try and clear the money changers from the metaphorical temple.

    I’m somewhat of a live-and-let-live Church member. I do what I’m asked, I keep my temple recommend current, and I earnestly strive to live the Gospel to the best of my ability and personal understanding. What I don’t appreciate is when others think that just because I believe/understand certain Gospel principles in a slightly different way, or give them a different priority than they themselves might, that I’m not a “real” Latter-day Saint. The propensity of some members to want to cleanse the Church of those who don’t agree with them on every jot and title gets very old, very quickly. At the end of the day the Church belongs to God and Christ, not the General Authorities and certainly not the members of the Church who want to enforce their interpretation of what the General Authorities have said (or not said) on others.

    While there certainly are some people I fervently wish would decide to leave the Church, I’m not going to try to push them out. I figure that each of us is responsible for our own salvation. If one gets a principle wrong the consequence for that will be decided at the final judgement (and to a lesser extent at death). In any event I’m perfectly content to let God and Christ deal with it.

    With respect to my fellow saints, I’ll extend a hand of fellowship to anyone who is trying to follow the Gospel principles as *they* (not necessarily me) understand them. (Now if they are interested in doing so I’ll happily discuss doctrinal and practical points of interest and try to explain and persuade, but whether we end up agreeing or not isn’t going to influence whether I think they *should* be a member of the Church.) And I’ll extend a hand of friendship to anyone who doesn’t bite it (be they a member of the Church or not).

  5. IW,
    I fear you may mistake conservative/liberalism with political parties.
    Sometimes political parties embrace one or the other.
    Liberalism is still wrong, it still sends one to hell.

  6. Ivan, all of your points are valid and I agree with them. Unfortunately, labels are sometimes necessary as a shorthand when writing about things, even if they are imprecise and silly generalizations. I think many people know they are imprecise and silly generalizations, but they still get what you are trying to say. It would be nice if we could rid all of our conversations of imprecision, but I don’t think it is likely to happen, so perhaps the best we can help for is a bit of understanding. I know plenty of people who are conservative politically but very “liberal” (unorthodox?) when it comes to the Church, and I know plenty of people who are liberal politically and orthodox when it comes to the Church. But even orthodox and unorthodox are very imprecise terms, and don’t apply to everybody the same way. I guess my point is: yes, labels are stupid but they still will be used and if we have charity we will not freak out when people use labels poorly and inconsistently.

  7. I see myself as a Disinfectant Mormon. If I see any dirt anywhere, I’m there ready to sanitize it. Mormon history? Sanitized. Book of Mormon geography? Sanitized. Mormon politics? Sorry, it’s just too messy and dirty for me to clean. :)

    Seriously, a very good post, as was Ardis’.

  8. h_nu,. that’s sad that you see it that way. Liberalism doesn’t have to send anyone to hell. There are GAs who are/have been liberal. I’m thinking that if they are going to hell, then there isn’t room for me, either.
    All I can think of is that Christ commanded us to not judge, or at least judge righteous judgment. You are painting with a very wide brush that does not allow for anythinig worthy of judgment.

  9. John S. Harvey please read John 17. The gospel is the Father’s and the Son’s but our only access to it in its fullness is through the Apostles. Those who will not receive the Apostles will not receive Christ.

  10. I think the problem a lot of people have in the church is a bad case o much ado about nothing, as a registered Democrat married, no sealed to a registered Republican, it just isn’t a point on contention for us that we are registered with different political parties, or the fact that I use mac and she uses PC, again, it’s really not something that we allow to be a point of division between us. That’s how it should be. The reality of the current political situation is that it’s inaccurate and misleading to call either major party truly anti-mormon, thankfully, most of us have been quite blessed to have grown up in a latter-day diaspora where we don’t have to experience something to the severity of the 19th century saints. It’s also not as dominant in politics as it used to be.

    The church does have a stand on two issues brought up in politics:

    1) The performing of abortions
    2)Opposite-gender marriages performed in temples.

    Outside of that, however, it is not clear cut how any politician or party can really form or advance the Lord’s causes. I personally welcome people o either party to present their case and am fine with observing civil, constitutional process as a citizen in how I disagree with them when it does arise.

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