Archive for the ‘politics’ Tag

Civility

Reading: “The Mormon Ethic of Civility,” from the LDS Newsroom

Tonight my mind is buzzing after reading this post by Monica Bielanko about the recent controversy over a quote from Elder Oak’s recent talk on religious freedoms.  The quote at the center of the controversy is this:

These incidents were expressions of outrage against those who disagreed with the gay-rights position and had prevailed in a public contest. As such, these incidents of violence and intimidation are not so much anti-religious as anti-democratic. In their effect they are like the well-known and widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South.

Monica Bielanko was the first of many journalists and bloggers who interpreted this quote to say that Elder Oaks was equating the backlash many members felt after the Proposition 8 fight in California with the horrendous atrocities perpetrated against blacks during the civil right movement in the 60s.  If this were the case that would certainly be an inflammatory and incorrect statement.

However, I feel it is pretty clear that Elder Oaks chose to say this because he was trying to illustrate the principle that in a free country people shouldn’t face retaliation for voting a certain way or supporting a cause.  Luckily, there aren’t very many examples of where this has happened because Americans, in general, up to now, have been pretty tolerant of people who disagree with them.  The civil rights movement is one of the few well-known examples where people faced violence and personal retaliation for supporting a political position, and Elder Oaks invoked it as an example for this reason.  I think it is clear that he is not comparing the level of retaliation in the two events. Perhaps, in hindsight, he could have made this more clear, but a careful reading shows that the interpretation some have chosen to give it is not correct.

After this story blew up, however, it is clear from her blog post that some church members chose to attack Monica Bielanko personally for writing this story.  This violates the number one item Elder Oaks asked us to do in order to preserve our religious freedoms: “We must speak with love, always showing patience, understanding and compassion toward our adversaries.”

It is important to remember that in this day and age (and arguably, to some degree, throughout time) part of the job of journalists is to find the controversial quotes and make news stories about them.  This happens ALL THE TIME.  Most political controversies these days focus on single quotes taken out of context.  It is sad every time this happens, as it is sad now, but is pretty much what journalists do.  When we descend to the level of name calling and personal attacks, we are doing nothing to help our own cause, and we are violating our own standards of behavior.

This latest general conference focused a great deal on civility and showing respect to each other.  This latest controversy is an example, on both sides, of how a lack of civility degrades people and defeats peace.  Respect for each other, despite disagreement, is a fundamental building block of society.  I am grateful that we have prophets today who are helping to preserve civility in our society, and I hope we can all strive to live our lives more closely to the ideals that God has given us.

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Religious Freedom

Reading: “Religious Freedom,” Elder Dallin H. Oaks at a BYU-Idaho Devotional

The opinion of religion today is plummeting in the minds of much of the American people, and as more and more people look down on religion as silly or unfounded, our religious freedoms are jeopardized.  In this talk, Elder Oaks encourages us all to be more vigilant of our religious freedoms and to not be shaken by the increasing unpopularity of our positions.

Part of our religious freedom is the freedom to vote according to our religious beliefs.  It is very popular now to call religious beliefs “delusional,” “illogical,” “silly,” and “nonsensical.”  Part of the justification for this derision of religious belief is the incorrect belief that science has proven that God cannot exist, which any of the thousands of educated and actively religious scientists, engineers, doctors, and professors in this country could tell you is completely not true.  When your opinion no longer has a right to be heard, just because the other people in the country think your opinion is wrong, then you lose your freedom to participate in our democratic government.  Elder Oaks quoted Richard John Neuhaus as saying:

In a democracy that is free and robust, an opinion is no more disqualified for being ‘religious’ than for being atheistic, or psychoanalytic, or Marxist, or just plain dumb.

Increasingly those who vote according to their religious beliefs are facing retaliation for simply voting according to their beliefs.  This was particularly seen as people angry about the success of proposition 8 who went after individuals who supported the campaign. This was what Elder Oaks was talking about when he compared current religious persecution to that faced by civil rights leaders in the 60s:  part of freedom is being able to say and vote according to your conscience without being afraid of what other people will do to you.  Going after those you disagree with personally and/or violently was wrong in the 1960s and it still wrong now. Our democracy can only survive when we respect everyone’s right to share his or her opinion.

I think it is important to note that Elder Oaks does not suggest that we have currently lost our religious freedom, but rather he is telling us that if things continue along the current trend than in the future our freedoms are in danger of being lost.  He then gave five ways that we can act to make sure our religous freedoms are not lost. He says:

  1. We must always speak with love, showing patience and understanding towards those we disagree with.
  2. We must not be intimidated into silence, but rather continue to vote and act according to our conscience even when we may face mockery or even violence as a result.
  3. We must insist on the freedom to preach the doctrines of our faith.
  4. We must be wise in our political participation, and show our respect for those we disagree with as we debate with them.
  5. We must be careful never to support a “religious test” for those in office (meaning we must never support a requirement that someone in office must believe or not believe any set of religious beliefs in order to obtain office.)

This is a great talk which everyone should read.  Elder Oaks does a great job of explaining what religious freedoms we have in the constitution and why those freedoms are so important. I also believe he does so in a way that is respectful of those who disagree with us, while still being firm on our rights as religious citizens.  It certainly has motivated me to be more firm in my religious opinions and not be so quick and ready to explain them away when I feel they might be criticized.

What have you noticed about the current trends in the opinion of religion? What do your religious rights mean to you? How can you help preserve our religious freedoms?

Politics and Preaching

Reading: Alma 4:16-19

Imagine if the president of the United States called a press conference and announced that after looking at  all of the problems the country faced he decided that the best, most effective thing he could do to help the country was to resign as president and instead travel the country preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To most people this scenario seems ridiculous, yet it happened in the Book of Mormon.

Alma, as the new chief judge, was troubled by the problems in the land of the Nephites and so found another honorable man to take over his position as chief judge.  In Alma 4:19 it says:

And this he did that he himself might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.

The church is very careful to remain neutral on political issues, and will only take any kind of position when they feel that the issue is moral, which happens very rarely.  This is just my own thinking, but it seems to me that part of the reason they do this is because they realize the same thing that Alma did: that the best way to help people was in reaching out with testimony, not by making laws.

Today it is easy to get wrapped up in the drama and emotion of politics.  Sometimes I feel like there is very little I can do because I am not in a position of power.  Yet, here we learn that as members of the church with the pure gospel we are in a greater position to improve the country than most politicians.  Like Alma of old, we can do more by sharing the gospel than an elected official can do by changing laws.

Today I am going to pray for help to see opportunities to share the gospel, and for the wisdom and courage to do so wisely.

Have you noticed times where the conversion to an ideal was more effective than an enforced rule? Can you think of any hot political issues where people’s positions might be affected by their conversion to the gospel?