‘Us’ vs ‘them’

President Obama famously said “the government is us.”

I don’t think anybody believes this.

Some people might say they believe this when one policy they favor is approved by voters. If you are a tea party supporter, you might have been temporarily cheered during the 2010 elections, or if you wanted Obama to win in 2012, you might say to yourself, “the people have spoken.”

But nobody really believes the government is “us.” The government is almost always “them.”

Skeptical? Think back to World War II. The government (“them”) rounded up Japanese Americans and put them in concentration camps. Was that a government of “us?” How about the many governments of the South that enforced segregation or turned a blind eye to lynchings or fought civil rights in general? Many individual white people in the South, especially business owners who wanted new business, favored integration, but the governments (“them”) prevented it.

Ancient history, you say? What about the NSA spying on all Americans’ phone calls, texts and internet communications? I literally do not know anybody in real life who defends this policy. Everybody I know, from conservative to liberal and all shades of politics in between, finds this extremely alarming. Yet nobody feels like we can do anything about it. “They” are in control. “We” are helpless. This is not a government of “us.”

Here is an easy test to see if you feel like you are in control of your government: how would you feel if you got a call from the IRS? Would you feel uneasy? Would you imagine a painful audit or a pleasant experience? How about being molested by the TSA as you do nothing but take the voluntary action of boarding an airplane? Is that a government of “them” or of “us?”

On a local level, do you really think your local police are concerned about “you” when they set up speed traps? Or are they concerned about raising revenue for “them” and “their” concerns? Speed traps have nothing to do with “protect and serve;” speed traps about about “them” getting away with fleecing you out of $150 (or more) of your hard-earned money.

Now, compare this to your experience at Church.

I guarantee there are people who will mistakenly think that Church is about “them” vs. “us,” but they simply are not thinking through the issue very carefully.

The first point about your experience at Church is: nobody is forcing you to go. You can get up one morning and decide that you don’t want to go at all. Now you might say this would disappoint your family members and/or children, but your problem is with your family members and/or children, not with the church.

In contrast, as a U.S. citizen, you are indeed subject to force. Once you get a job, you must pay taxes whether you want to or not. And if you don’t, you will be fined or sent to jail, and if you resist you will be killed. If you move overseas, you still must pay taxes. Your only way out is to renounce your U.S. citizenship, which takes a long time and is an arduous process. And, by the way, if you mention that the reason you want to renounce your citizenship is that taxes are too high, you will not be allowed to renounce your citizenship. Welcome to our “voluntary” (in the words of Harry Reid) taxation system.

I have seen on these pages the truly idiotic argument that taxation is exactly like tithing. I know: it is difficult to believe that in this day and age there are people who are stupid enough to believe this, but I guess I must spend some time (again) pointing out that tithing is nothing like taxation.

The first point is you can go to church, go to meetings and go to conferences without ever paying a cent of tithing. No people with guns will prevent you from going to any church meeting if you have not paid your tithing. You will not go to jail or be fined. If you move overseas, you can still go to church. If you renounce your church membership, you can still go to church.

What about your temple recommend? Think back to your most recent interview. You are asked by the bishop if you are a full tithe payer. The definition of “full tithe payer” is completely left up to you. Personally, I try to pay 10 percent of my gross earnings in tithing, but note the bishop does not ask you if you have done this. This is a completely voluntary system where you pay not a penny more than you think you should pay, and you will not be audited, and the bishop will take your word for it.

Imagine if taxes truly were voluntary: if you valued your schools and the police and the courts and the fireman and the military, you could estimate how much that was worth to you and you could send in a check to cover those services. But let’s face facts: people who want higher taxes always want other people to pay the higher taxes. Everybody is free to send in extra money to the federal and state treasuries, but very few people do. The reason in simple: taxation is about using force to extract money from other people. This is a mafia system writ large; it is not a system of voluntary contributions.

I think the most important point about seeing church as something we do together (“us”) is to consider the important role of voluntary service. I need to make this point because many people are not going to understand this: you do not have to accept a calling. Any calling. Nobody is forcing you to accept a calling or do anything in the church. Even an “assignment” is still voluntary.

Now, you may feel guilty if you don’t accept a calling or an assignment. That is your problem, not the church’s problem. If you really don’t want to do a calling, don’t do it.

You will hear church leaders say you should always accept callings, and this is true. If you accept that your leadership is inspired by God (which is one of the reasons you are going to church), you will generally accept callings because you will believe the callings were inspired on one level or another. But note: this is about you voluntarily deciding to believe in the church. Nobody is forcing you to believe in priesthood inspiration. You are deciding on your own to believe in a system where certain leaders are given authority by God to ask you to do certain things.

To reiterate:

1)You voluntarily decided to join the church.
2)You voluntarily decide to go to Sacrament meetings and other church meetings.
3)You voluntarily decide to follow your leadership.
4)When the leadership asks you to do something, you voluntarily decide to do it.

There is no force of any kind anywhere in this process.

This is a system of “us.” We have decided, through the marvelous free agency given us by God, to create voluntary communities where we help each other in order, in charity and in love. If we truly fuse ourselves to this system, we can help the poor and the needy and the less fortunate, we can edify each other, we can truly be “one people” of one heart and one mind. We can progress together to new levels of sacred knowledge.

The contrast with the worldly systems they have created could not be more stark and more clear.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

29 thoughts on “‘Us’ vs ‘them’

  1. How loudly can I scream I love this? Seriously, you have hit the nail on the head with this one Geoff. It’s about choosing and choice. This is why I get so frustrated when I see and hear about members of the LDS church comparing the United Order to Communism. It’s a false comparison. In the United Order, you are free to participate and you (hopefully) are motivated by love of God and your fellow man. Whereas with Communism you are motivated by the point of a gun.

  2. Thanks Joyce. Yes, there are still unfortunately people who think socialism is similar to the United Order, when in fact they are exact opposites.

  3. I agree that the Church should be an “us.” I have to say that it simply isn’t always like that. I see “Eternal Damnation” as a more threatening means of coercion than a gun. Far too often, parents and (local) leaders resort to shame as a means to an (admittedly good) ends. That shame-based approach leads to a “them” mentality.

    On the other hand, I do see the Government (especially in the US) as “us.” Human governments only have power according to the consent of the people governed. I get that oppression happens. But it only happens to the degree that the people choose to continue living under the oppression rather than resisting with their lives.

    Now, I have to admit that “us” isn’t exaclty pleasant at the moment. The majority of Americans continue to passively submit to the current trend of two-party politics and the mess it has given us. But I am an American, and that means that I own my fellow country men as “us,” even when I’m less than impressed with their critical thinking skills.

  4. Kevin L, I think you must be confused about which church we are discussing. “Eternal Damnation” is simply not something that latter-day Saints worry about much or are threatened with much — by anybody. Our concept of multiple heavens and the very rare case of somebody being sent to Outer Darkness after sinning against the Holy Ghost means most people are not much afraid of the damnation you are describing. (Perhaps this happens in other churches, but not ours). I have never even heard of a church leader using “shame” in the way you describe. Some individual parents may use shame this way, but the LDS Church in general encourages parents not to shame children.

    Your comment seems typical of people who take one incident that they heard may have happened to one person 20 years ago and blow it into a trend of some kind. It simply has no resonance with the reality of being a latter-day Saint.

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree on the U.S. government representing “us” in any way. If my examples from the NSA, the IRS, the TSA and the local police don’t convince you, there is probably not enough common ground on this subject to have a useful discussion. I will agree with you that it would be nice to see our fellow Americans as “us” and I indeed see the people I interact with as “us,” but unfortunately the ruling class (“they”) don’t really seem to care much about “us” at all.

  5. How could anyone think the church is too much damnation talk? I see just the opposite. A lot of inattention to Covenants, more focus on entertainment than holiness. Pursuit of comfort instead of pursuing the things of God. These things really ought to condemn us and yet we hear nothing of the sort from our leaders!

  6. When the church excludes people I love in discriminatory ways I have a hard time viewing leadership as ‘Us’. It’s ‘Us’ when a group agrees with us and it is ‘Them’ when they don’t. You don’t see the difference because you predominately agree with the church on the things you feel are important. Everything is a choice. You can choose to leave the country and you can choose to leave the church. You will pay a price for both. The church tries to make sure that the price is heavy for leaving the church and that makes some people view the leadership of the church as a ‘them;’

  7. Anon, your comment shows a lot of hurt feelings. At the end of the day, there is only one question, which is: is this Jesus Christ’s church or not? I testify that it is. I urge you, if you have been baptized and taken covenants, to return to the church and try to find a way to follow the leadership of the Church. You will be following the Savior if you do this.

  8. Their is another possibility that it is Christ’s church led by fallable people and that we don’t have to excuse leaders mistakes or pretend like every little policy decision comes directly from Christs lips to the prophet in the Holy of Holies. Sustain doesn’t mean agree with everything. Sometimes expressing disagreement is the most important kind of sustaining. Correlated church culture leaves very little room for honest differing viewpoints and the church suffers for it.

  9. The Church is sufficiently large and hierarchical that it can feel like “them.”

    However I’ve usually been able to make it feel like “us” on the local level.

    Correlated smorrelated. I used to have the time to attend multiple meetings on Sundays – fascinating to see how the same correlated message was delivered in different wards. It was kind of like drinking different wines (assuming I drank) – all were fundamentally the same kind of “juice,” but each had a different feel, unique notes.

    I’ll admit sometimes the notes were pretty sour. But since I wasn’t typically a member of those congregations, I could smile and be glad for the congregation where I am known and loved.

    On some occasions my local congregation or particular individuals within my congregation could/can be sour. Personally, I take that as an opportunity to take control of my own situation. Unhappy about the “silence” about Church History? Then I go ahead and talk about it. Have a sister who barges out of meetings in tears because she’s been overlooked again? When asked if I’d like a calling I know she’d adore, I suggest they consider letting her do that job.

    If the Church doesn’t feel like “us” I suggest you clothe yourselves in the robes of pure charity and go to battle to make it Christ’s Church and a place you can rejoice to be.

  10. “And, by the way, if you mention that the reason you want to renounce your citizenship is that taxes are too high, you will not be allowed to renounce your citizenship.”

    Actually, if you renounce your citizenship to federal tax purposes, you may do so but you may be subject to an “expatriation tax”.

    As someone who lives and works abroad, I do not cherish the fact that the US is the only industrialized country that taxes the foreign income of its citizens, but the burden of citizenship isn’t quite as onerous as you suggest.

  11. Peter LLC, I’ll accept the correction, although it is worth pointing out that I actually know people who have had their citizenship applications delayed indefinitely because there was suspicion that they were renouncing for taxation purposes. In this case, the delay has so far lasted a few years.

    I am a U.S. citizen with no plans to renounce citizenship, but I find our taxation system incredibly unjust.

  12. Regarding correlation (see anonlds’s comment above), I have gotta point out that the same people who complain about correlation also complain that the church should discuss its history more “openly” and spend more time rejecting its racist past, etc, etc. Sending this message out to the entire world would be pretty difficult without correlation. So the Church is darned if it does correlate and darned if it doesn’t.

  13. Correlation was the instrument used to make sure certain topics weren’t discussed. We had talks in General conference about not participating in or consuming non-correlated material. But correlation was about far more than doctrinal consistency, it was about centralizing power under the Q12. We need a more open culture generally and to have a greater tolerance for disagreement. The reason the church needs to actually make statements is because they pro-actively hid stuff through correlation. Had we never had correlation, that issue wouldn’t exist like it does today, because the church wouldn’t have been denying stuff that was true.

    Maybe what you are saying is true that correlated corrections are required, but only because correlated errors were propagated.which has created the toxic environment where you are only allowed to give sanitized opinions on anything. Don’t dare discuss heavenly mother because then people will wonder if there are more than one of them, etc., etc.

  14. I would like to bear my testimony that I know that the NSA snooping is inspired by the bureaucracy of the US government. I know that Obamacare really does want to someday be a purely socialist invention that does not need real money to work. I know that progressives who believe in big government hope for the day when we all have our own Star Trek food processor that will make money meaningless, and we can all explore the stars with Captain Picard.

    Sadly, the reality is, government is leading us towards slavery, not freedom. Even now, it is driving many people out of the work force and independence, and into the arms of dependency on government entitlements. It really is a very slick operation, which most Americans are willingly accepting the bribes in exchange for their freedoms.

    The key on the Church being “us” is we can always decide not to be a part of it, if we no longer feel like it is something we want to be involved in. I do not have a choice with government. They are forcing me to pay for the NSA snooping, the IRS’ gestapo tactics, contraceptives, and the trillions of dollars in deficit spending. If the Church ever goes into debt, I am free to decide whether to help bail it out or not. My children and grandchildren will become slaves to federal debt, with no opt out.

  15. anonlds, thank you for making my point for me. Correlation is evil, but we sure do need to point out all of the horrible things the Church has taught or not taught over the years, which of course could not be done without correlation. It is ironic that you don’t even see the irony.

    Next time you have to lead a worldwide organization, and plan lessons in dozens of language in more than 100 countries, good luck in doing so without putting together some kind of correlated message. But of course your assumption is automatically that the Church is acting in bad faith, is led by evil people, blah-blah-blah.

    At the end of the day, anonlds, you are responsible for your own salvation. I will not allow you to use M* anymore to knock down the faith of others. This is a faithful Mormon blog. Go take your complaints to your usual ex-Mormon forums. Meanwhile, I encourage you to go back to church and get yourself right with the Savior and His church on the Earth.

  16. Geoff B.

    I’m not sure if this subject is just emotionally charged for you, leading you to misread my comment, or if my attempt to verbalize my thoughts and feelings was simply inadequate. I did not believe anything I said would have warranted that response. I fully intended it as a good-faith contribution to a serious and important discussion.

    I’m unsure whether I would be welcome continuing the discussion with an attempt to come to a mutual understanding or if we are all better off if I simply apologize for trying to contribute to a conversation.

  17. Kevin L, OK. Yeah, I was just getting excited. Thanks for explaining. You pushed a button with the whole “Eternal Damnation” thing. Yes, the D&C mentions this, but I simply don’t think the Church position could ever be described as threatening people with Eternal Damnation. (Even if you accurately point out that damnation really means “loss of progression” and not being sent to Hell where you are poked with pitchforks by devils for all eternity). In fact, in every conference and in every lesson and in every possible situation with missionaries, etc, we are told that a loving God sends almost everybody to some kind of heaven, which is the exact opposite of threatening people with Eternal Damnation. So yeah, I didn’t really like that part of your comment.

  18. I understand how that was easy to misunderstand. I used quotation marks to try to communicate nuance with the term, by which I meant anything less than the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom. And while, for me personally, the doctrine of Kingdoms of Glory is incredibly hopeful and merciful and loving, it isn’t always taught that way.

    One example. In the current Teachings of the President Joseph Fielding Smith, President Smith says that he could not call any existence without his family “heaven.” He then goes on to say that family ties only remain in force in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. I don’t think it is too illogical to conclude that he viewed only Exaltation as heaven.

    Which is itself reasonable. Striving for anything short of Exaltation is silly. I also believe that if we are not careful in our approach, some faithful, believing members (especially youth) may misunderstand the message and believe that their weaknesses and failures make them unworthy of the blessings of the Gospel. I’m not talking about something 20 years ago. I’m talking about things I have personally experienced in my 28 years.

    I wonder sometimes if our experiences with the Church aren’t fairly different. You live in Colorado? I’ve lived all my life (except my mission) in Southeastern Idaho. I did not understand the gospel. But the well meaning leaders and teachers I worked with, especially in my time at BYU-Idaho (2003-2008) reinforced this misunderstanding. Despite my intense striving to be perfect, I was convinced I simply couldn’t be enough. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the gospel. I would have given anything to lose my testimony in God and the Restored Church. Then I could ignore the “inspired” counsel that made me believe I was evil. If I hadn’t had such a strong conviction in the reality of the afterlife,
    suicide would have been a simple choice.

    I believed. I just believed the wrong gospel. I believed a gospel that said I had to earn exaltation, and that anything less was a consolation prize–not unlike the “Participant” Ribbons handed out to the losing team. I am eternally grateful for a faithful therapist who taught me to accept my limitations in mortality and trust in God’s mercy and grace. He never encouraged me to sin. But rather than telling me to use my own willpower to simply choose not to sin, he actually gave me tools I needed to access Christ’s grace and overcome sin.

    Geoff, I agree that the Church is “us.” I totally disagree with the ex-Mormons who portray the church as some malignant hierarchy “them,” who force innocent people to remain against their will, until they escape. If that’s what you were condemning, we have no quarrel. We’re the body of Christ. Each member is valuable, regardless of their perceived influence. That’s exactly why I try to comment when I read or hear things that I would have previously misunderstood.

  19. Kevin L, great comment. Believe it or not, I am a big proponent of the idea that we should preach the true Gospel of inclusiveness rather than the false Gospel of exclusiveness. You should know that this blog has a long and very unfortunate history of being spammed by ex-Mormons who cannot stand the thought that there is one blog where the Church will be praised rather than condemned. That may explain why I was a bit touchy about your first comment.

    A lot more needs to be written about the error of striving for perfection rather than relying on God’s grace to help us get there. We all fall short, but in different ways. We should not think we are better because we sin differently than somebody else.

    I really admire people who are facing their limitations and trying to overcome them. So, more power to you.

  20. Geoff, I really appreciate that. We certainly do and will have differences of opinion. I may not have a problem with the NSA collecting data, feel like I have anything to worry about with an IRS audit, or dislike “speed traps.” I value that we can accept those differences without resorting to personal attacks.

    But one thing I will never do is speak ill of the Church. I love the restored gospel and believe that the Prophets and Apostles are divinely authorized to lead the Church. Any comment which might come across as potentially criticizing even local leaders, is motivated more by a desire to strengthen the faith of people like me.

    Thank you for your efforts to maintain a forum for faithful conversation.

  21. I agree with the main premise of the OP and note the distinction between the “us” vs. “them” mentality in both the government and the Church. I too agree that we feel as much unity with Church members and leadership as we choose. It’s definitely an individual choice. That said, you did bring up a tangential issue that I hope will become the basis of a future post — the question of inspired leadership. I believe our leaders are inspired, but like all fallible people, perhaps not 100% of the time.


  22. Steve, yes, there is a difference between infallible and inspired. I think all prophets have noted that they are fallible people who are inspired when speaking for the Lord. My default position on this when dealing with leaders is that I will try to sustain them as best I can while realizing that I should never expect my leaders (my bishop, my HPGL, etc) to be perfect.

  23. Actually, the wikipedia entry on speed cameras has a lot of evidence of it’s unpopularity, supposedly around 70%.

    My view is that the government is too tied to popularity. I think speed cameras are a great way to generate revenue and they save lives according to studies as well. Someone has to force the kids to take their medicine. Social engineering has a place. I like what it’s done here in the Northern European countries. It’s civilized people. Socialist programs are widely popular here. If they were started in the US, they would also become popular, just as medicare and social security are now.

    Among Tea Party voters alone, 41% said Medicare was worth the cost!

    We have the government we deserve!

  24. nate: “We have the government we deserve!” couldn’t agree more. i think that’s a truism.

    In regards to northern and western Europe’s socialism. I have my doubts that those social programs will survive the influx of the eastern europeans. That immigration, along with the below-replacement-level birth rates of the westerners/northerners, is going to change the whole economic picture. In other words, the takers are in the process of swamping the makers. Socialism can’t survive that.

  25. Well, that’s a good point Bookslinger. Socialism will have to adapt if it is to survive. It works well enough under stable conditions, but is obviously unsustainable with rampant immigration from third world countries and social instability due to falling birthrates. Something’s gotta give, and it will give, because it has to. Yes there may be some recessions, some government bancrupcies, an EU collapse. But things will right themselves and eventually find the right balance. Then things will drift right back to socialism, because socialism is the true humanist spirit, and humanism is the religion of Europe.

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