“The Complexities of Mormon Political Theology”

This article by Matt Bowman is worth reading.  I, however, want to take issue with part of it: “Spencer W. Kimball, in short, had no coherent political position. He would alternatively inspire and horrify today’s progressives, and prove an inconsistent and frustrating ally to the American right.  And this is as it should be.”

Except for the last sentence, I don’t really agree. I think it isn’t that Kimball had no coherent political position – I think it’s that typical partisan politics has no coherent position, and Bowman makes the mistake of conflating partisanship with coherence.

Too many want the church to be an arm of particular partisan ideologies.  The church’s stance on things such a same-sex marriage and “illegal” immigration upset partisans of both sides, but that does not create incoherence.  Both represent commitments to eternal principles that transcend our current concerns.

Somewhere out there in the Ricks College newspaper the Scroll, there’s a picture of my in a college debate representing the College Republicans (I was chosen because there was a Dan Quayle rally in the state that same day, and I was one of the only two members not going).  That was before my mission.  After my mission, my experience soured me on several Republican ideologies.  I went to the College Democrats, but was driven away by their arguments supporting abortion rights.  I went back to the College Republicans, only to hear them defend gun rights using almost the same language the Democrats had used on abortion.
The world is incoherent.  The Gospel may seem incoherent sometimes, as it is seen through a glass, darkly – but in the end, it is eternally coherent.  I believe Bowman should have framed his conclusions along those lines.

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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.

6 thoughts on ““The Complexities of Mormon Political Theology”

  1. Russell Fox made a similar point on Facebook, and I think Bowman then clarified his point about incoherence. I think he was saying Kimball wasn’t coherent from the perspective of the typical American political ideologies then in vogue.

  2. I somewhat hope that the conversation can move a little beyond Bowman to a larger discussion of how the gospel interacts with partisan culture – though if that was Bowman’s clarification, I think he should revise the article.

  3. Ivan, partisanship is about joining one of the “teams” and rooting for it to win. You ignore the weaknesses of your own team and trash the other team. The danger, it seems to me, is 1)losing your principles as you ignore the weaknesses or inconsistencies of one political party and 2)losing your principles as you turn a blind eye to the inevitable ugly behavior of the people in your political party. Because prophets are not about losing principles, it seems inevitable to me they will avoid partisanship and embrace principle, and this will lead them to reject some things about both major political parties.

    I also think some good ol’ fashioned independent thinking is necessary these days.

  4. Ivan, it’s a valid point, though I spend the first seven paragraphs of the article talking about how American politics and religion don’t fit neatly onto each other. “Politics,” certainly, is beyond straight up American partisanship, but I think in context of the article the point is clearly made.

  5. Thanks for commenting matt b – I’d say that in context it’s not quite as clear, as all the examples of contrast you give in the article are presented as basically partisan contrasts. I actually think it was, on the balance, a good and worthy article, but I don’t think your context is as apparent as you believe it is.

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