When Mormons Sit at the Cool Table with the Christian Right
They have hipper music than we do; awesome stadium seating churches and exciting, fiery sermons, complete with multi-media special effects. Of course we stuffy Mormons get jealous of some right-wing Christian groups.
I live in Utah, where Mormons like myself dominate the religious landscape, while conservatives (not me) dominate politics. Every now and then, conservative Mormon politicians try to prove that they can be cool too and start promoting the Christian right agenda. These fellow Mormons use religious rhetoric as they call on all Christians, especially the Mormon kind of Christian, to join their cause. Their speeches baffle me; from my vantage point on the left, their political agenda doesn’t sound like it is related to the faith we share.
Are their political views really more Mormon than mine? I’m examining some of these socially conservative policies to see just how Mormon they really are. I will make every effort to do so without bias, although I disclose that I am an unrepentant liberal.
Jello: Oh my heck! This position really is Mormon.
Cola: This position is Mormon-neutral. 1
Coffee: This position conflicts with Mormonism.
|Opposing embryonic stem cell research
I have to admit, I was pretty confident that this one deserved a coffee rating. Mormon doctrine is that the human spirit preexists its body and then enters it sometime before birth. Exactly when this happens is a doctrinal gray area, but many Mormons have opined that the spirit enters the body long after the embryonic stage. 2 Then I found that the church has an official neutrality statement with regards to stem cell research, so I concede to a cola. 3
|Promoting prayer in public schools
Mormon scripture admonishes us, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret…” 4 Oh wait—the Christian right also believes in this scripture, yet promotes classroom prayer at public schools. Well, we Mormons back that up with a uniquely Mormon cautionary tale about a wicked group of people who said prideful prayers while standing up on a high stage for all to see. 5 That said, group prayer is an important part of Mormon worship. In 1990, Mormon apostle and former justice Dallin H. Oaks expressed approval of the 1962 Supreme court decision that ended required public school prayer but suggested that efforts to curb student-initiated prayer were going too far. 6
|Affirming the “personhood” or “human rights of the unborn” in order to restrict abortion
The Mormon church is against abortion for “personal or social convenience,” allowing exceptions for rape, incest, health of the mother, or an inviable fetus. Of course, this is what the church tells its own members to do, which is different than supporting laws to enforce these guidelines among the population at large. In fact, the church newsroom reports that it has never supported any legislation that would either restrict or promote abortion rights. 7 Many Republican Mormons have told me that a good member of our faith should not be a Democrat because of their pro-choice platform. However, I gave this issue a coffee rating because the Christian right’s stance on fetal human rights, currently embraced by the Republican platform, would conflict with current church policy by restricting abortion even in cases deemed appropriate by the Mormon church. 8 In contrast, the Democratic platform would allow Mormons to continue choosing whether or not to continue a pregnancy based on our own religious beliefs. 9
|Preventing evolution from being taught at public schools in favor of “creationism” or “intelligent design”
“The scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how…” 10 Both Mormons who deny the existence of evolution and more scientifically-minded Mormons will be able to find theological evidence to support their views in church archives. 11 However, universities sponsored by the Mormon Church teach evolution in science classes. I myself studied evolution in freshman biology at BYU-Idaho, and no, equal time was not given to theories based on the book of Genesis. I gave this position a coffee rating because it would be irrational to oppose science curriculum for public schools that is taught at our own private colleges.
|Not “believing” in global warming and opposing carbon emission control
This one confuses me. I can understand a desire to see more conclusive evidence. I can respect those who feel that other issues are more pressing priorities. But to simply “not believe” in a quantifiable weather pattern? Huh? How did such a thing become a matter of faith? I was at somewhat of a loss about how to address this from the perspective of Mormonism because I couldn’t relate this “belief” to theology at all. I was tempted to serve this red herring with a coffee rating and move on. Instead, I tried to exercise due diligence. One author suggested that the climate change stance of the Christian right really isn’t about religion—they just happen to use religious language to talk about everything. 12 Others were able to pinpoint a religious relationship; many on the Christian right believe we are living in the end of days and soon God will reign on the earth, eliminating the long-term consequences of wrecking the planet. 13 14 Well, okay. Considering that the Mormon church includes the word “Latter-day” in its title, it is obvious that we have some end of days doctrines of our own. But if you really, truly believe that God is coming to Earth, wouldn’t you be a wee bit embarrassed for Him to find that you’ve trashed it? A different religious link is described by a Christian right group themselves; God created the earth and in His infinite wisdom, would not be guilty of a design error like making the planet vulnerable to carbon emissions. 14 I am not even going to respond to that. Instead, I rate this issue with a cola, mostly because it is making my head hurt and I hope caffeine will help.
|Eliminating sex education or limiting it to abstinence-only education
As a trained health educator, it pains me to confess that the Mormon church policy on sex education could reasonably support the Christian right. The policy states that parents have primary responsibility for the sex education of their children; the Christian right chant, “Parents, not schools, should teach children about sex.” The policy encourages parents to ensure that if schools teach sex education, the curriculum is “consistent with sound moral and ethical values.” Since the Mormon church standard is abstinence before marriage, it could be argued that abstinence-only sex education achieves this end. However, it is also reasonable to suggest that school-based sex education complements, rather than replaces, parent sex education efforts, and that “sound moral and ethical values” can be relayed through comprehensive sex education. 15
|Opposing same-sex marriage I plead no contest. Have some jello. 16|
|Opposing civil unions and anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT individuals
It is hardly a glowing endorsement, but the Mormon church “does not object to rights for same-sex couples” that are often granted through civil union laws. 17 In at least one instance, the church formally supported an ordinance forbidding employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. 18 However, during General Conference earlier this week, Elder Oaks made disparaging comments about same-sex parents which could have implications around adoption policy. 19
Looking at my analysis, I see a lot of cola. So go ahead and see if the the Christian right cool kids will let you sit at their table. Meanwhile, I will continue to take my jello salad to some other picnic.
Want us Mormons to be more like the cool Christians? Let’s work toward incorporating Christian rock bands and multi-media presentations into Sacrament Meeting. I wouldn’t mind that at all. But please, don’t ask me to support the political agenda of the Christian right. Although some conservative Mormon politicians try hard to endear Mormons to conservative Christian cool kids, the fact remains that many of them will always think we’re a weird cult of people who are all going to Hell. We can find better friends than that.
Cola Photo by Diego Medrano