Can’t we all just get along? (Or: On Zion)

Posted by on October 15, 2012 in charity, Exponent II, politics, women | 5 comments

When I first learned that Exponent was getting political, my initial thoughts were on my own political coming of age story, involving a specific experience on my mission, and several more specific experiences at BYU that ultimately resulted in my experiencing a change of heart, from somewhat right leaning to somewhat left. This was the story that I wanted to tell, but after watching the debates, and taking in their tone, I feel a little too sad about politics. Or, at the least, I feel sad about the division of politics, and the dishonesty. Part of me wants to shout from rooftops, “Can’t we all just get along?” And the other part of me wants to whisper it.

So I will ask it here instead, “Can’t we all just get along?” If the lion can one day lay down with the lamb, can’t the republican and democrat sit at the same table peacefully, with enough respect for the other to tell that other the truth? (This is my hope of hopes.) I will also ask this question in terms of Zion, because I sincerely want to know. If Zion is described not only as a place with no poor, but as a people with one heart and one mind, does that require saints of Zion to agree on everything? Can we have differences among us and still have it be Zion? Can those differences be political? Can’t the lion still be a lion and the lamb still be a lamb? If so, how? Secondly, what might it look like?

I am not sure. But, I think it would sound quieter than our political landscape currently sounds. There would be more listening. And when the talking happened, it would be more genuine talking–not the kind of words that make good soundbites, or appeal to people simply to appeal, but that elucidates how the interlocutor actually feels. Above all, I believe there would be more attempts to understand, and more trust underlying those attempts. The focus of this trust would be an assumption, that each party, or person, comes from a good place, and that it might even be the same place, with the same beliefs and feelings (read: one mind and one heart), though they disagree on outcomes.

I believe this for two reasons. The first is a quote from David Campbell’s book, American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us, on a specific, left-leaning LDS ward:

Interestingly, members of the Pioneer Ward on both ends of the ideological spectrum say that their political views are largely a product of their religious beliefs…Yet Democratic congregants tend to cite Christian values such as equality, compassion, and helping the poor as the source of their politics, while Republicans generally point to principles of self-reliance and personal responsibility, as well as the “moral” issues of abortion and homosexuality. All these ideas have a place in Mormon teachings. Arriving at opposite political conclusions while sharing a fierce loyalty to Mormon theology, culture, and church teachings means that reconciling differences won’t come easily for the members of the Pioneer Ward.

This seemed to be mirrored years earlier by Harry Reid in an address to BYU students:

Let’s talk politics. It is not uncommon for members of the Church to ask how I can be a Mormon and a Democrat. Some say my party affiliation puts me in the minority of our Church members. But my answer is that if you look at the Church membership over the years, Democrats have not always been the minority, and I believe we won’t be for long. I also say that my faith and political beliefs are deeply intertwined. I am a Democrat because I am a Mormon, not in spite of it.

The second is a story from the Book of Mormon, wherein persons from the same families are unified in mind and heart, but make opposing covenants. It is the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, who are later called Ammonites, and later still just called Nephites. Both the parents and the children trust in Christ implicitly and love those who taught them the gospel. Neither the parents nor the children fear death. Somewhat surprisingly then, their mutual beliefs are manifested in contradictory ways. The parents bury their weapons of war deep in the ground for the peace that they promise, and even covenant, to maintain. When their enemies come upon them, they lie down to die, rather than fight back. Their children, who believe the same things their parents believe, later make a covenant of war.*

Understanding that individuals “of one mind and of one heart” may arrive at different conclusions seems like an important first step in building Zion, as well as an important first step to having better relations with those in our wards or communities who disagree with us politically. The disagreement itself is fine, but any assumption about someone’s character, or lack of testimony, or etc., because of that difference is not fine. Maybe as we remember and act upon this, we can get just a little bit closer to getting along.

How does your faith influence your politics?

How can we work together towards a more unified ward or community, even in the midst of disagreements?

*My husband pointed out to me that the circumstances each faced was different, but I still think the moral remains.

This series includes submissions for Exponent II’s Fall 2012 issue. Don’t forget to purchase your subscription or individual copy of the magazine by October 15th to be sure you’ll get a copy.

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5 Comments

  1. This is something I have thought a lot about. Let me first say that I even question whether or not all will agree on everything in the celestial kingdom. I’m not sure. I believe that conflict is inevitable when there is a group of people who are to the individuals. As children of God, our identity shares both an individual component and a collective component. Meaning that no matter how much peace exists there will still be conflict between individual world views, but no matter how much discord and war exists, the actions, beliefs, and feelings of individuals will still affect all other individuals in the group. (If you are interested in these two aspects of identity I have a lot more to say about it, facebook me Rachel)

    The goal of Zion is conflict without contention. While we must disagree with others by virtue of our different levels of understanding and unique points of view, we are commanded to not be angry, to not have enmity, when we see anyone else as “against” us that is enmity. Therefor we must see everyone else as being “on the same team” indeed it is the family of God to which we all belong that is our team and Christ is our team captain. While we have seemingly different goals there are several things that we can do to get on this team.

    First you will notice how often in the scriptures it talks about hardness of hearts and blindness of minds. One of Satan’s main goals is to close our minds. It doesn’t matter which direction we close our minds in, the right or the left are both equally acceptable to Satan. His goal is for us to become convinced of our own “rightness” so that he can convince us to make war on those who are wrong. God wants us to stay open so that we can still learn, hence the commands to be as little children, to be teachable, to be humble. So one defense against contention is an open mind, or a teachable mind.

    Next we need to realize that people are smart, they are not dumb. If you have been convinced to see others as stupid, or not to be trusted, or unable to make decisions for themselves, than you are not following Christ. God continually trusts us with more than we are worthy for. He believes we will make good decisions. He is not naive, but he sees that we are capable of good. He looks at us (all of us) and sees Gods, that can act for themselves, not proles that need decisions made for them by the elite class. When we adopt this world view we will be more likely to value others opinions and realize that they have good reasons for their beliefs.

    Also, we need to step outside of the “battle”. The research of Jonathan Haidt suggests that the function of the reasoning portion of our mind is actually to convince ourselves that we are right and to defend our team, even if that means it needs to blind is to the truth. Often we believe that rational beings use reason to discover truth. I believe that it can have that function, but only when we overcome the natural man. We must first realize that we are in this moral matrix, then we must step outside of it. Stop fighting. Stop arguing. Realize that most often your arguments will be deconstructed automatically by the reasoning mind of your opponent and turned into reasons that he is right. So stop it. If you are both amicable and open, you can proceed to have an open minded conversation. But if there is contention present, you can rest assured that the battle is a complete waste of time, and will take you further from Zion.

    I have many more thoughts on this but I think that will suffice for now. Let me leave you with this. Hugh Nibley said that Republican and Democrat are two branches on Satan’s path. I agree with him completely. I do not believe a good Mormon can be a Democrat, nor do I believe that a good Mormon can be a Republican. Now they may vote for either, as long as they believe that those men are going to make good righteous leaders. But to join themselves to organizations that do not seek to build up the kingdom of God, nor to establish peace, but instead are engaged in a war of words, and are almost without a doubt corrupted by people who have covenanted together to get gain… well, that sounds like the kingdom of the Devil to me.

  2. I’m glad you posted this. We’re watching the next presidential debate with several families from our ward and I am worried about it. These will be good thoughts to keep in mind, to remember to be open and to listen and to not be contentious.

    I know that difference of opinion can and will exist in a Zion society. In the Millennium it is not only Mormons who will be saved, it is the righteous who will be preserved, right? There will be missionary work as Christ reigns personally upon the earth, as I recall. That means that there will be people who believe in Christ and who live righteous lives, but who are not Mormons living in a Zion society.

    Now I am second guessing myself and wondering if I am wrong. But I thought that was what we believe.

    • It is at least what I believe. :)

      But, I also think it is what the collective body of the church believes to be doctrine.

      Somehow I like Zion more, to think that it can be a place with some plurality.

  3. Actually, what I see is it is a problem of homogenousness. My experience in wards where there is major age diversity and living circumstance diversity and marital status diversity (not that there are two groups, but there are all sorts of differences) that there is not this problem. Sure, I still get the “be in the world but not of the world” but there isn’t a lot of sweating the small stuff and judging.
    I think in wards where so many things are the same. Same cookie cutter houses. Same age kids. Same, same, same then the little differences become important. When there are no comparisons, it is easier to not feel judged. I go to church and there is no one else with four kids from 4 to 14. So, I don’t feel like I am competing for who is doing it the best way. My teenage daughter is one of three young women, one is 3 years older, one is three years younger. Why on earth would anyone judge her on her skirt length? I might wince a little, but everyone at church seems to appreciate her awesome talk. My son might pass the sacrament in a wrinkled suit coat or his hair still slept on funny, but he just feels valued. He is not one of 12 picture perfect deacons.
    I’m not saying there aren’t downsides to this experience, but I am saying that there are benefits to not living on the ideal place to raise families. I think about this every day half wondering if someplace else would be better, but then I see how happy my kids are and how well they are doing despite the difficulties.

  4. When my husband once told me he didn’t look forward to the idea of the Celestial Kingdom I was shocked. I kind of thought of it as a pretty garden where everything is trouble-free. What’s not to like? What he didn’t like is the general feeling he got that everyone is supposed to be the same there, which to him would feel like hell (I think Steven Peck’s book “A Short Stay in Hell” explores this idea – I keep meaning to read it).

    Anyway, I think diversity is good – just look at the natural world! God must like diversity! And differences of opinion are part of that. I think the thing that is un-godlike is to get contentious about them. So my idea of Zion is lots of wonderful diversity and variety, without the contention.

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