The Exponent Gets Political: Judging Another’s Testimony
When I was a sophomore at BYU in the early ’60s, I was a political science major. One of my professors, a Democrat, was set to debate a religion professor, a Republican, and with my gleaned-from-my-family Republican leanings, I went along to see what this Democrat of a professor, whom I highly respected as a teacher, had to say for himself. The debaters were quite evenly matched intellectually and their exchange quite lively.
By the luck of the draw, the religion professor had the last say. His final remark changed the way I think about politics and the Church for good. He concluded his remarks with, “Brother….., if you believe what you have said in this debate, you don’t have a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
I was shocked at what I considered to be a cheap shot made in an attempt to recoup what he perceived to be lost ground and to win the debate. What right did he have to challenge political thinking by challenging his opponent’s testimony!?!
Fast forward to today. Over the past few years, our congregations often seem to have become places where people have been made to feel that if they don’t share the current conservative Republican view they had better keep their views to themselves or risk being accused of not having a testimony.
A dear sister and friend of mine was accused of just that when she spoke up in a Relief Society meeting. The stake Relief Society president had been “urging” everyone to support–with their money, time, and energy–the passing of Proposition 8 in California. When my friend offered that all of the sisters in the room might not feel the same way about the Proposition and that each of us has our own free agency and powers of discernment to choose, the RS president told her that if she believed what she was saying then she mustn’t have a testimony of the gospel.
And now with the advent of a Mormon running for president, the pressure to conform seems to have intensified, that if you don’t vote for the Mormon candidate you would not be a good Mormon, that you would be disloyal at the least and without a testimony at the worst.
Conservative political philosophies now seem so enmeshed with the Church and our religious culture that it appears to be impossible to have a view other than a right-wing conservative Republican one and still be taken seriously as a religious person. In the last presidential election, just before she died at 86, my mother told me that she had voted for President Obama but asked that I not tell anyone because she didn’t want to face judgment, disbelief, and anger from her friends and fellow ward members. She had the strength of her own convictions but not the courage to face the repercussions from her Mormon neighborhood.
Brigham Young balanced the heavily Democratic political situation in Utah by requiring that every other home become a Republican household. If the Church and its members are going to dictate by direct pressure or by innuendo how we are to act when deciding political issues, maybe it’s time for us to ask for Brigham Young’s balancing act solution and order every other household to be Democratic.
Or, better yet, we should ask that we be left to use our free agency without fear of being judged as less than worthy.