This is a guest post by John Fowles.
I was shocked today to read a description of the behavior of our fellow Latter-day Saints in Nevada who call themselves political conservatives or Republicans. From what I gather, a Stake Presidency in Nevada invited Harry Reid to speak at a “Why I Believe” fireside (Harry Reid has spoken at other such firesides in other stakes and at other functions). Members of that stake were apparently outraged at the suggestion that a Mormon with a different political viewpoint than their own might bear testimony. A member of the stake described what happened in her personal blog, The Backordered Life. (note: The link to the blog has been removed at the request of the blogs’ author.)
Members of her stake apparently threatened to protest with signs and to heckle Harry Reid from the audience (in a fireside about a person’s testimony! — I would guess that these same people are the type who would strongly discourage clapping after a musical number at a fireside). It seems that Senator Reid even received some threats of violence causing concern for his safety that ultimately got the fireside canceled. Members of the stake allegedly sent emails to the Stake Presidency saying that Harry Reid was the most evil man on the planet and that the Stake Presidency must be evil too to have even considered letting him bear his testimony:
One man said, “If I see Harry Reid in the temple, I’m going to hit him.” Another told our stake president, “Harry Reid is the most evil man on the earth, and you and your counselors are next.” . . .
There were even people weighing in from out of state. One woman called from St. George, Utah; my husband took the call, and she gave him a message for our stake president: “You’re a wicked man for allowing this to happen.”
(Imagine, apparently, as the blogger points out, some suburban Nevadans who oppose health care reform think that Harry Reid is more evil than President Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong-il, or human traffickers in Africa, Latin America or Asia selling young girls into sexual slavery, or owners of African or Indian gold mines forcing ten year olds to slave for crusts of bread, or street bosses in Asian cities crippling children to make them more effective armies of beggars, or militias in Africa hacking entire villages to pieces and making the children of those villages eat the flesh of their parents. It makes reason stare and causes one to ask whether these Nevadan Latter-day Saints at issue are really so uninformed about the broader world and its real evils that they could actually think that advocating a certain health care policy in the United States is evil, as opposed to just misguided from a policy perspective.)
News of this should be extremely distressing to all Latter-day Saints. This, and other antics that we are seeing more and more of from Latter-day Saints who call themselves conservatives or Republicans has the potential to be a public relations disaster and unwinds a lot of the careful, methodical work done by President Hinckley during his tenure to improve the image of Mormons from the damage done in the Civil Rights and ERA political fights. As a Latter-day Saint looking at such horrible behavior and mean-spirited antics from afar, I can confirm that from my perspective this is damaging to the Church as a whole and opens us to unnecessary and harmful ridicule.
This also tarnishes the Church’s long-standing commitment to political neutrality. The membership of a stake in Nevada has shouted down a Latter-day Saint and prevented him from bearing his testimony of Jesus Christ and telling of the power of the Atonement in his life (Reid was to bear his testimony and describe his conversion to the Gospel). They have put a fellow Latter-day Saint in fear of his safety such that the fireside was cancelled and he was silenced. This treatment appears to have been purely motivated by politics. Mormons in Nevada who have allowed themselves to get so riled up by certain pundits and personalities have evidenced their character in how they have treated this fellow Latter-day Saint. It was Harry Reid’s political policies that made him unworthy to bear his testimony at a fireside in the eyes of these Latter-day Saints. How dangerous that is for the body of the Church and for the welfare of Zion.
What is wrong with us as a people that this could be possible? How does Reid’s involvement in drafting health care policy possibly make him “evil”? (Answer: It does not and cannot reasonably be conceived to do so.) Why can’t the Latter-day Saints doing this just view Reid as wrong from a policy perspective rather than claiming that his testimony is invalid or calling him evil? Do we have such little understanding of the world and the Gospel? My best sense from the scriptures is that God does not really care about the particulars of political policy in different governments, even on health care. He has left it to us to set up governments and to use our best resources, reason and intellects in crafting policies that we deem beneficial for ourselves. I would think that an honest reading of the scriptures teaches us that God is indeed interested in seeing us make efforts communally as a society to alleviate each other’s suffering and to care for the poor and needy, etc. Whether a society chooses to do this through a policy such as the current health care reform in the USA or through a single payer system like the NHS in the UK (or nothing at all, although I think God would expect accountability on how we as a society had the means to help those suffering without adequate access to medical care and chose not to do so in that scenario) is, I would think, entirely irrelevant to God.
Moral Agency as a doctrinal concept or principle is also completely irrelevant to this debate. Nothing that a government does can take away someone’s Moral Agency in the Gospel sense. Liberty as referenced in the Book of Mormon is not at issue in any of these debates. Nothing about King Noah has any applicability to health care policy in the USA in 2010. Latter-day Saints in the UK or Germany are not less morally free than Latter-day Saints in Nevada. From the perspective of this Latter-day Saint living in the United Kingdom, Latter-day Saints in Western European democracies that have implemented socially beneficial systems of equitable health care access are in fact evidencing Christlike attributes by paying their dues into such health care systems (and also of course reaping the benefits of those systems) without raising an insurrection or shouting down their fellow saints for having alternative political viewpoints.
I would venture a guess that the same people in Nevada who have behaved in this manner toward Harry Reid would welcome a fireside in which Glenn Beck bore his testimony and related his conversion story. This is despite Glenn Beck’s very uncharitable and un-Christlike manner of presentation and content in his sensationalistic and ideological show.
I am very troubled by hearing of this development in Nevada. As Latter-day Saints we need to value the discipline of demonstrating moderation in all things, including political viewpoints. Each of us needs to play a role in toning this mess down, in helping Latter-day Saints who define themselves as political conservatives or Republicans to come to their senses and most of all, to chastize the Latter-day Saints involved in such an embarassing and despicable display against Senator Reid. We each need to take a reality check on how we are contributing to building upthe Kingdom of God by allowing different viewpoints about something as petty as a particular political or policy debate to cause us to act in an unChristlike manner toward our fellow citizens or Latter-day Saints. It is counterproductive to our covenants to build up Zion. This is especially the case in our representative democracies — a political system that allows Zion to flourish in a context of pluralism, diversity, harmony and prosperity. As members of such a polity, our actions should be guided by principles of civic republicanism in accepting the responsibilities of citizens, including by obeying the rule of law once enacted by the party winning an election, even if that is not the party a particular individual prefers.