We believe in being Republican

donald-trump-mocks-reporter-with-disabilityBefore the American presidential election, Republicans were in something of a panic about the possibility of losing the usually reliable Mormon vote. Several prominent Mormon Republicans criticized the Republican presidential nominee, such as Mitt Romney, who warned that a Donald Trump presidency would lead to “trickle-down racism, trickle-down bigotry, trickle-down misogyny.

As the Trump campaign continued, it grew more and more offensive to Mormon sensibilities. In December 2015, the Trump campaign took a stand against religious freedom when his campaign announced that “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

In October 2016,  footage was released showing Trump bragging about committing sexual assault. Several Mormon politicians revoked their endorsements of Trump soon thereafter. “We have a 15-year-old daughter,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Mormon representing Utah in Congress. “And if I can’t look her in the eye and tell her these things, I can’t endorse this person.” Polls showed the predominantly Mormon and usually reliably Republican state of Utah in a virtual three-way tie between  Trump, Hillary Clinton and a former Republican running as an independent: Evan McMullin, who happened to be Mormon.

Shortly before the election, vice presidential candidate Mike Pence held an emergency rally in Utah, begging Utahns, and particularly Mormons, to “come home.”

Mormons run the risk of being a people without a party,” fretted Don Peay, chair of the Trump campaign in Utah.

Wait, what? Aren’t Mormons already a people without a party? The church is politically neutral! Didn’t Peay cross a line with that comment?

Yes, he did. But that line is a fuzzy line, a line that Mormon church leaders themselves tend to cross on a regular basis.

General Conference talks are riddled with Republican catch phrases. Mormons can expect to hear the phrase, “personal responsibility” during General Conference but not the phrase “social justice,” although both concepts are rooted in gospel principles.  Using the term “politically correct” as a sneer has nothing to do with gospel principles but everything to do with Republican philosophy.

If the Mormon church is politically neutral, why does General Conference sound like a Republican campaign rally?

Simply put, it is because most Mormon church leaders happen to be Republican. In 2014, the Salt Lake Tribune researched the political affiliations of the 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and found that most were Republican, some were unaffiliated, and none were Democrats.*

julie-b-beckMany Mormon women were shocked to see former General Relief Society President Julie Beck endorse Trump for president at that Utah rally. I wasn’t. Beck’s Republicanism always shined through during her “nonpartisan” religious talks.

I’m not only talking about the infamous Mothers Who Know sermon. For example, in her 2009 talk, Using Relief Society Meetings to Teach and Inspire, Beck advocated for local bishops to have more power and control over Relief Society units than Beck herself, who governed at the general auxiliary level. Essentially, she was copying and pasting a Republican philosophy about state and federal power into the context of church governance.

Of course, the problem with placing control of the women’s Relief Society in the hands of male bishops is that it disempowers women within their own organization.  But frankly, her lack of concern about sexism is another trait that lends itself to Trump support.

At the rally, Peay continued his speech by threatening Utah Mormons: “And if Trump were to lose Utah and it cost him the presidency, where is that gonna put the Mormon people amongst the Republican Party? If you do cost him the election, you’re in exile for a generation.

What? What?!! So Mormons have to vote as a block for the Republican candidate, even if the Republican party nominates someone as abhorrent as Trump, or the Republican party will exile Mormons?

I didn’t think Mormons would fall for that, but shortly after the rally, for the first time, polls showed Donald Trump rebounding among Utah voters. To be fair, a self-identified white nationalist also paid for robocalls in Utah that same week, accusing independent candidate McMullin of being gay, so anti-gay bigotry and racism may have also played a role in the Trump rebound. Shame on us.

Less than three weeks after Rep. Chaffetz said on live television that he could not look his daughter in the eye and endorse Trump, he reconsidered and drew the finest of fine lines. He would vote for Trump and urge everyone else to vote for Trump…but he would not use the word, “endorse.”

I wonder if he makes his daughter wear sunglasses in the house now.

In spite of all the Mormon hand-wringing about Trump in public throughout the election cycle, when Mormons secretly cast our ballots, 61% of us nationwide voted for Trump. A higher percentage of Mormons voted for Trump than any other religious demographic.** In the end, we chose “trickle-down racism, trickle-down bigotry, trickle-down misogyny” after all. We were among the minority of American voters who made Donald Trump president.

But we had to! We had to protect our religious freedom!  And the Republicans told us they would exile Mormons if we didn’t vote for their Islamophobic candidate!

So how is that working out for us?  Did we buy Republican protection with our votes?

steve-bannonThe Trump presidency has not yet begun, but one of his first moves as president-elect was to recruit Steve Bannon as his chief strategist,  a white nationalist with a history of bigotry toward Mormons.

We can’t defend our own religious freedom by voting for those who would trample the freedom of others. In the words of Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

To their credit, Mormon church leaders issued a press statement the day after the Trump campaign announced his intention to discriminate against Muslims if he became president, making the same point that Martin Luther King did. But after years of hinting that Mormons should Choose The Right Wing from the pulpit, a news release was simply not enough.

Mormon leaders may not be doing this intentionally.  As a homogeneous group of Republicans, they may not even recognize the political cues in their speech that are so jarring to Mormons of a different political persuasion.

Ideally, if Mormon leaders want to be as politically neutral as they say they are, they will work to identify and purge Republican rhetoric from religious sermons and texts.  They will seek out and advance people into church leadership who differ from themselves, so that not every General Conference speaker reflects a Republican voice.

But we can’t wait for that.  In four years, Americans will vote for or against Trump again. Let’s not make the same mistake twice.

Those of us who are among the minority of American Mormons who didn’t vote for Trump have the most influence among the people we know, the people who share our congregations. We need to work to cultivate an atmosphere tolerant of political diversity, to differentiate between political and religious speech in our church services and materials, and to make the case for Mormons to support freedom and justice for our neighbors, as well as ourselves.

And speaking of ourselves, half of us are female. Yet, Trump’s misogyny was not a dealbreaker for most of us in the end. That tells us something about how our current pattern of teaching gender relations—heavy doses of chivalry, light on equality—isn’t working. At the least, we could begin conversations about consent in our church meetings.

We are well-poised to prevent another Trump victory, because we are intimately acquainted with some of his core voters.


*Some new apostles have been called since 2014.  I do not have data on their political affiliations.

**Oddly, the Pew Research Center did not provide data on Evangelicals as a demographic, only for the disaggregated group of white Evangelicals, so the overall Evangelical percent is unknown.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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24 Responses

  1. Andrew R. says:

    “The church is politically neutral! Didn’t Peay cross a line with that comment?”

    I don’t know Peay, but I am not sure that him speaking is the Church speaking. So he didn’t cross a line, did he?

    As well written as the piece is, I think you need to remember that the Church is over 50% non-american. I hear nothing political (ie that would persuade me to vote in a particular way) in GC. I do hear things that to me resonate with my beliefs. But not being American I do not put them into a political way of thinking, but rather a religious one.

    I think that you would find, and I have no scientific data for this – just my communications with members over a 40 year period, that the members in the UK probably about 50:50 labour:conservative party split. Although there are members of the Greens, Liberal Democrats and UKIP as well.

    We do not have the same level of Conservative Christians in the UK and so issues like Pro-Choice and right to bear arms are not relevant in general elections. As a result members are not needing to vote according to their religious beliefs, and can do so more on the issues of the day.

    “Of course, the problem with placing control of the women’s Relief Society in the hands of male bishops is that it disempowers women within their own organization.”

    That is your view, and I understand why it is, and I believe you are fully entitled to believe it, promote it and discuss it. But maybe it isn’t Beck’s. And she is just as entitled to believe it.

    It seems, from some of what I have read here (on the site) that the idea of Clinton winning was only important because she was a woman, and the glass ceiling being broken was the only important thing. I think Clinton is an appalling women and epitome of an anti-feminist ideal. The way she stood by her husband in his sex-scandal, the power/empire building of the two of them and just about everything about her is something that does no favours for women at all.

    It may be sad that you didn’t get a female President. It may be sad that you have Trump. But it is a blessing, IMO, that you do not have Clinton.

    I have lived under a female prime minister, and am doing so again. One could say that Mrs Thatcher was one of the best PM’s we have ever had, even if you didn’t like her, or her party. I think May could be better, I am certainly very pleased that she is the one in charge at this difficult time in our country. Both were/are Conservative Party Prime Ministers. Both have done, or are doing, more for the cause of women than Clinton will ever do.

    • 1. When politicians imply that their political party has LDS Church endorsement, I believe they have crossed a line.

      2. The worldwide membership of the church is another reason church leaders should purge American politics from their sermons, but not the focus of this essay about how Mormon leaders’ actions affected American voters.

      3. I don’t believe that Beck has the opinion that putting Relief Society control in male hands is a problem. That is my opinion, not hers. As I pointed out in my article I believe that gender issues are completely off of her radar.

      4. This piece was not about Clinton. It was about Trump. I see a problem with Mormons voting for a man who openly discriminates against racial/ethnic/religious minorities and women, regardless of his gender or the gender of his opponent.

      5. Thanks for saying that the piece is well-written.

      • Andrew R. says:

        But when Clinton is a complete non-starter, and Trump is who he is, what option do you have.

        I am not saying Trump is a great guy, he most definitely isn’t – I would not want my daughters anywhere near him. However, he may turn out to be an all right President, time will tell.

    • Cruelest Month says:

      Did we read the same words? Peay is the chair of the tRump campaign. Of course he doesn’t speak for the church. Is he even Mormon? He crossed a line in threatening Mormons. Just as the campaign crossed lines of civility and respect for democracy in threatening many other groups. USA Mormons want to be accepted. We respond to threats. Mitt Romney lost his presidential bid in part because he could not win over evangelical voters. Of course we rallied to support a bully.

      • Andrew R. says:

        I confess to not knowing who everyone is in US politics. But the real issue with this election wasn’t how awful Trump was, it was about how awful both were. What seems to have been lost in all this is that party members chose both of these awful candidates.

        I know a lot of American members, and they do all appear to be Republican supporters. But it all does seem to be about the pro-choice/pro-life issue, together with a few similar things.

        We don’t have that here – both of our main parties are pro-choice. So it isn’t really an issue. So we have socialist members! Heaven forbid!

      • EFH says:

        Andrew R – while I understand that many found both candidates ‘ equally awful’ , please allow me to point one big difference. Trump = an awful unqualified candidate, Hillary = an awful but qualified and experienced candidate. You might not like her politics and associations but she is qualified for the presidency more than all the Republican candidates in the primary.

  2. Jen says:

    Thank you for this piece, April. I totally agree with you.

  3. Christi says:

    April, you are such a great writer, and I always find that you say exactly what I’m thinking in a much better way. Thank you.

  4. Kristie says:

    Yes! I totally agree! I feel a heavy sense of disappointment when members share that they voted for Trump. I didn’t even think of the rhetoric of church leadership. Spot on.

  5. Wally says:

    Thanks, April. This was not a proud moment for Mormons as a whole. That 61 percent of LDS voters preferred Trump even over McMullin, a fellow Mormon, is a sad statement. I’ve often said that many Mormons are more Republican than they are Mormon. This election proved me right.

  6. Jenny says:

    Great post April!

  7. Megan says:

    This is why I find Church leaders’ rhetoric around religious freedom to be both dangerous and disingenuous. For the past I don’t know how many years Church leaders have talked about the assault on religious freedom that is, supposedly, same-sex marriage that 61% of Mormons were willing to hold their noses and vote for the guy who might, possibly place anti same-sex marriage justices on the Supreme Court even though he’s also the guy whose rhetoric is actually about stripping away religious freedom if someone happens to be Muslim. Apparently religious freedom only matters when you’re trying to defend someone who doesn’t want to sell a same-sex couple a wedding cake but not when it comes to defending people whose religious faith differs from our own.

    We Mormons had a chance to stand up for morality and we failed.

  8. Sylvia says:

    This just made me sad. If I had known Julie Beck was at that rally, it may have challenged my testimony–that was when I still had hope that McMullin would take Utah. My testimony is still intact, but I agree with everything here. I have always voted more Republican than Democrat, but never a straight ticket. This year, I even voted for a grocery clerk over Mike Lee because I’m so disgusted by the party’s choice of Trump. I wish the Dems had given me more options.

  9. Zinnia says:

    For a fun (not very fun) excursion, head over to LDS living’s Facebook page where an article about Trump considering Romney as Secretary of State is getting lots of bananas comments. I am shocked at the number of people who are chiming in to say that Romney doesn’t deserve it because he failed to support Trump in the election. Again, the preelection buzz made it sound like Mormons thought Romney was demonstrating an admirable amount of integrity in standing by his Mormon values in his refusal to support Trump. But apparently what really happened is that Mormons thought Romney was a traitor to the party.

    Anyone remember that conference talk from a few years ago about th evils of the dole? Around here in conservative Arizona, every relief society lesson on charity or self-reliance eventually devolves into a republican political rally, and it’s no wonder.

  10. m says:

    A study considering perceptions of consent in date-rape cases showed that WOMEN who held a hierarchical worldview, versus and egalitarian one, was the group most likely to blame the victim and to believe that she consented, no matter what she said or how she resisted. (https://www.pennlawreview.com/print/?id=251) I keep thinking about this study post-election, and what it says about Mormons and evangelicals, and how they could excuse Trump’s racism and misogyny. Because he said the world was terrifying, and he was their only hope and safety. I am bewildered that I could hear messages of hope and looking forward from one candidate, which I also heard reflected in general conference. Apparently we hear what we’re looking for.

    The church has moved a long way from the time of Brother Joseph, who treated all as his equals.

    • Andrew R. says:

      “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”
      These were the infamous words used by Bill Clinton to excuse his “inappropriate” conduct with Miss Lewinsky. This action surely added this problem. To what extent do you believe Miss Lewinsky could say no? I don’t know if she would have said no, I do know that men with that sort of power should not take advantage of it – Clinton/Trump they’re all the same. And Mrs Clinton was part of this.
      She is not a feminist, she is a woman wanting to be one of the boys.
      Trump, for all his bad points was the only person who could be voted for.

      • I agree with you about Bill Clinton. But blaming a woman for her husband’s behavior is sexist and a symptom of rape culture. Rape culture excuses men for predatory behavior by blaming women instead of holding men accountable.

        Electing a known sexual predator as president, and I am including both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump here, is rape culture on the largest scale possible.

        Americans live in a country that has elected multiple male sexual predators to its highest office, but never a woman. That says a lot about us.

      • Moss says:

        Andrew, please consider that that is a really ugly sentiment- Secretary Clinton does not bear responsibility for what her husband did. Also I am not sure you get to decide who is and is not a feminist, nor do you have any direct insight into what Secretary Clinton wants in her heart of hearts.

  11. Betty Johnson says:

    This article came too late for me. I resigned from the LDS Church on Wednesday, November 9th. After 50 years of trying to assimilate into the Republican Way.

    • I am sorry to hear that. I will miss you. I hope church leaders will have some serious discussions about the implications of their political rhetoric for people who share their love of the gospel but not their love of American Republicanism.

    • wilt says:

      I regret that you found it needful to leave the LDS Church. I’ve spent just over 40 years refusing to assimilate into Republicanism. Folks know where I stand, even if they don’t want to hear it sometimes. They hear it anyway – but what the heck.

  12. EFH says:

    I was saddened by the 61% vote for Trump in Utah but I was not surprise. Our leadership is costing dearly to the church as an institution and membership. Their lack of awareness of the variety of issues that are important to people and to the church as an institution (beyond freedom of religion), their lack of understanding of the complexity of social issues (poverty, racism, hunger, education etc) that affect people inside and outside of the church and so many other characteristics really shows that they need to diversify themselves as a body of leadership.

    The white boy that grew up in a farm and got a Harvard Business degree club needs to change. We need people that come not just from other countries but from other states and neighborhoods inside US, that graduated in Arts, Humanities, Sociology, Literature and so on and not just Law and Business.

    They always respond with fear towards ‘the other’ whether in politics or ideas. They still cannot have a conversation with the intention to learn something new about ‘the other’.

  13. Ziff says:

    Great post, April. I agree. It would be wonderful if the Church saw fit to show its political neutrality by giving up Fox News talking points in Conference. I’m afraid that’s not going to happen anytime soon, though.

  1. February 21, 2019

    […] Republicans to high-ranking clergy positions and often use Republican jargon in religious talks. (I’ve written about that before here.) American Latter-day Saints take the hint and overwhelmingly vote […]

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