The Exponent Gets Political: Judging Another’s Testimony

by Sue Booth-Forbes

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.

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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21 Responses

  1. lmzbooklvr says:

    This is brilliant 🙂 Thank you!
    I love that every other household being “assigned” to be Democratic. I remember my mom telling me about that when I was young when I learned about political parties.
    For my part, my parents are both “Reagan Democrats” and my mom regularly talks about switching party affiliation now (though I doubt she will go through the hassle). In my home state, I was a moderate-to-conservative Republican and felt the wrath of the teachers with whom I taught if I dared to mention support of President GW Bush. I’ve now moved to Utah and registered as a Republican. However, in practice or by cultural definition it seems I am a “feminist Democrat” – and not much but my residence has changed!

    • EmilyCC says:

      I am amazed how much political affiliation changes depending on the culture one lives in. Thanks for sharing your background, Imz.

  2. Diane says:

    I’m the person that political candidates positively hate. I am an independent moderate. In other words, I’m the person that likes to split the ticket. It depends on the issue.

    But, how ironic(i’m not sure that’s the word I want to use) the church assigning political affiliation. On one level this is very disturbing. I realize this was a long time ago, yet, it bothers me because I see this kind of interference today, even though the church claims that we do have the right and free agency to choose for ourselves(sigh)

  3. Paul 2 says:

    In my French ward, no one talks about politics in church, ever. And if you do speak privately with people, you will hear universal dislike for Romney and a politely stated belief that U.S. members don’t understand what the scriptures say about the poor. Come on over!

  4. sartawi says:

    Recently, I lived in Boise, before moving to rural Utah (yay?). I had given my email address to the RS president in Idaho, in order to receive activity and lesson updates, as well as important news that the RS or ward wanted to distribute.

    One day, I was shocked to find an email sent to me, from a man in the ward. He had sent this email out to the entire ward email list, about 150 people/households. The email was anti-Obama, anti-government, and pro-Republican. It contained mean jokes, offensive “bumper stickers” images and inappropriate caricatures of our current POTUS. I couldn’t believe it. I thought at first that it must be a mistake, and he didn’t mean to send it out to the whole ward.

    However, over the next 24 hours, I received reply after reply from members of the ward who received the offending email, and “replied all” to it, effectively sending their reply to everyone on the list. All of these replies were in support of the email. They said it was hilarious, that it was “so true”, that they were forwarding it on to their friends and families. Many voiced their own opinions of the sitting president and other Democratic government officials. Not one person mentioned the inappropriateness of this email.

    I tried to email him directly, and did not get a reply. I decided (a bit out of frustration and anger, I am sorry to say) to “reply all” with my own opinion. I was very tactful, and told him that not everyone in the ward is a Republican, and not everyone finds such offensive and mean humour to be funny. I politely asked that in the future, more discretion be used when using the ward list for communication, as the only reason I provided my own address was to received timely updates and information regarding church events.

    Apparently the bishop was on that list. I almost immediately got a call to meet with the bishop later that evening. I didn’t meet with him. I told him, over the phone, that I was not okay with church resources being used for political agendas, that it was offensive, and he could decide from there what to do, but I hoped he would make a wise choice to end this practice. Ultimately, I asked to be removed from the list.

    I am still amazed when I think about it, that so many people in the ward saw nothing wrong with this situation. In my mind, it was wrong on so many levels. The bishop confirmed that I was the only person who had any complaint about the email or the fact the ward list was used to send it out. I respectfully, but a bit sarcastically, asked him if it was then okay for me to use the ward list to market my home business. There was silence, then a quiet “I’m sorry this happened. I’ll talk with those who have the list, and make some changes in how it can be used. I can see your point.”

    Although I am glad the situation was remedied, and that my voice was heard on this injustice and inappropriateness, I am dismayed that the collective opinion in the ward, in the very conservative area where I lived, was that this was okay. I am bothered that the assumption is that if you are a good Mormon, you will support the conservative Right. It irks me that because I am a Mormon, I am expected to support the Mormon candidate. I never told anyone in that ward what my political leanings are. The fact that politics so grossly invaded church and ward inner workings was reason enough to be upset in this case. Whether I am conservative or liberal or somewhere-in-between, whether I support Obama or Romney or someone else, is neither here nor there. We live in a free country, with free speech and freedom of thought and choice for a very good reason, and that right has been fought for dearly. Who are we to try to tell people what to think, say and do, and use the facade of religion to promote our agendas?

    • Ziff says:

      Yikes, sartawi, that’s really bad! I’m glad you at least stood up and got the bishop to concede that it was out of line.

    • Diane says:

      I’ve also received emails such as this from a person in my Branch, you may want to remind your Bishop that the Church handbook of instructions strictly prohibits members private emails from being used for these kinds of purposes.

      Your entitled to be kept informed of ward activities, the rest of the stuff is nonsense. If necessary, go above his head to the stake presidency.

      Even though I’m no longer a member I will still receive these emails and then I contact the SP office to remind them I’m no longer a member and my email address should have been removed a year ago

    • EmilyCC says:

      That’s horrible, sartawi. I’m glad you spoke up!

  5. Andrea says:

    What a great post – I have recently been struggling with this very issue. I am surprised by the many people at church who automatically assume they will vote for Romney because he is a Mormon. I do not share this view, I believe people need to think for themselves and about the various issues and then vote for the person who they believe will do the best job.

    When Proposition 8 was on the ballot in California, friends in my old stake told me how they received a visit from a stake appointed person who told them that as members of the church, they were obligated to ensure this passed. Every ward had someone appointed to make the rounds and speak to everyone in the ward – I was dismayed and angry about such a blatant abuse of trust in each and every ward in that stake. Was this something that had come from higher up? I do not know. But please allow everyone the freedom to think for themselves, to weigh the issues and to make their own decision!
    I do not believe the church should be wading into the political arena, and should not be attempting to influence votes. I wholeheartedly agree with this post and that people need to use their agency!!!!

  6. IDIAT says:

    Sartawi – you need to be careful about who you give your email to. Technically, if you gave to your RS president, that was arguably a “personal” point of contact and not on the “official” ward roster. I’ve hammered on this to the members — the church is very clear that membership rolls and information are not to be used for personal/commercial use. However, most members in the ward have, over time, accumlated a vast number of email addresses, especially the RS sisters. As a practical matter, often the email addresses the RS president has are more accurate and up to date than the emails on the membership records. In order to access the “church” emails, a leader must sign in online at and then, depending on the position, the leader can send out personal or group emails where the email addresses are pulled from the membership records. To me, that is an “official” use of church records. But, if it happened the way it did in your case, where you personally gave your email address to the RS president, that area is much grayer. It’s kind of like falling into a Facebook group. It’s quasi official because some leader may be the person pushing the group, but it’s not neccessarily “official.” As long as the alleged Republican emailer didn’t use “official” membership records, I don’t know that there really is anything the Bishop could do about the situation. I don’t blame you for being upset, but in the future, please be careful about who you give your personal information to, and also distinguish between whether an email is sent through “official” channels or whether it is sent on a personal level.

    • sartawi says:

      this was actually an official list. I put my address on a ward list that was passed around relief society to all of the sisters, and was to be used in an official capacity, but I understand your point.

  7. Libby says:

    If the general understanding is that the e-mail will be used to inform members about things happening within the ward, it is absolutely inappropriate to use it as a political forum. (This is exactly the kind of thing church lawyers don’t want to have to defend, and is one of the reasons that every ward gets The Political Neutrality Statement read at least once a year.)

  8. April says:

    Since I live in a Mormon-dominated area, I have met a lot of Mormon politicians, and I have a testimony that being Mormon does not necessarily make a person a good political leader.

  9. Annie B. says:

    Isn’t that a weird tactic? At it’s most basic, it’s attributing a principle to be from God, and therefore anyone who is against it must not be in tune with God. I find it unrealistically simplistic at best, and manipulative at worst. I think attributing something to be good because it came from God is backwards. I believe we can tell if something really comes from God if it bears good fruit.

    I was actually surprised at how often the tactic was used in the early days of the church while reading through the Journal of Discourses. The one that sticks out to me the most was when Brigham Young stated in some sermon that anyone who did not believe in polygamy must not believe in the gospel of Christ. I’m sad to say that I’ve experienced it in some form or another here and there. My sister once accused me of “not being in tune with the spirit” because I pointed out that D&C 132 disregarded women’s autonomy and that I didn’t believe it was from God.

  10. Dave K. says:

    Here in the Ohio, the stigma from being a democrat is not as strong as in Utah, but it certainly exists. I still have fear of “coming out” to most ward members …. and I’m the Bishop.

    As for tying politics to a testimony of the gospel, all I can say is that, from my experience, if someone has to resort to the “you’re not a good member” card it’s a clear signal they have lost the debate.

    • Diane says:

      Your comment has me thinking what about what its going to be like for members after the election if Mitt is elected.

      How does one answer the Temple question do you support all leaders? I’m sure there will be many, many stories

  11. christine says:

    Just wondering if anyone has an opinion on “The Mormon Democrat” (Harry Reid) accusing the other “Mormon”(Mitt Romney) of “sullying” their shared religion. Seems like the stigma is on both sides…

  12. EmilyCC says:

    Dave, your last sentence is very profound. Thanks for sharing.

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