I mentioned in my intro last week on Feminist Mormon Housewives that I consider myself to be a social democrat. I have been through several rounds of “the socialism question” around the Bloggernacle and it has been exhausting. Although this is a non-issue to most of us Mormons who live in social democracies, such as I do here in Norway, I have come to realize that it is a different story among American Mormons. It seems that I represent a small minority in the Church, at least among those I have corresponded with online, and I have felt on several occasions that there is no room for my belief. Comments have varied between support and downright disdain, with “communist” and “Satan’s plan” sometimes surfacing. The purpose of this post, however, is not to begin another round of the socialism debate, but to discuss being able to claim the place in the Church that is legitimately ours.
I was chatting to a good friend recently about how difficult it is to claim your place in a church where you feel so outnumbered. He commented how confusing it can be when different scriptures seem to contradict each other. The same can be said from teaching and quotes from General Authorities. The reality is that in many cases, I can read a scripture and receive a totally different answer or impression than another person who reads the same scripture. Is there really only one truth to everything? This of course doesn’t give us a license to rationalize things that we know are right or wrong, but could it be that there is singular “truth” than we believe? Could it be that finding “truth” in something does not require us to automatically exclude other possible “truths?” In other words, that we can have differing views on the same thing and both be right, depending on the time, place, and circumstances? Perhaps there is more leeway in our personal beliefs on a lot of issues than many assume.
I know that many will disagree with me, but I have a hunch that Joseph Smith was, in many ways, a liberal. Although some of his actions trouble me, I find more liberty and openness in many of his teachings than I do in other prophets. Ironically, some of his most fascinating teachings are to be found among his teachings of polygamy, but I think there is wisdom to be found in them in regards to other circumstances that we find ourselves in today. In a letter to Miss Nancy Rigdon from 11 April 1842, he writes:
“Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received. That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another.“
“God said, “Thou shalt not kill;” at another time He said “Thou shalt utterly destroy.” This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added.”
“Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and, at the same time, is more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be. He will be inquired of by His children. He says: “Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find;” but, if you will take that which is not your own, or which I have not given you, you shall be rewarded according to your deeds; but no good thing will I withhold from them who walk uprightly before me, and do my will in all things—who will listen to my voice and to the voice of my servant whom I have sent; for I delight in those who seek diligently to know my precepts, and abide by the law of my kingdom; for all things shall be made known unto them in mine own due time, and in the end they shall have joy.” ( Official History of the Church, Vol. 5, p.134-136, See also “The Letter of the Prophet, Joseph Smith to Miss Nancy Rigdon,” Joseph Smith Collection, LDS archives)
One of the reasons why I enjoy blogging so much is that in the Bloggernacle, I get the liberal Mormon perspective that would be very hard to get in church. A non-Mormon whose only exposure to Mormonism is the Bloggernacle could be led to believe that the majority of us are fairly liberal, but I think that this is actually very disproportionate to reality. Let’s face it, liberal Mormons are grossly outnumbered in the church. I think that conservatives sometimes feel threatened by liberals and want to quash liberal thinking and ideas, perhaps going as far as to practically chase them out of the Church, while liberals sometimes feel they’re at war with their own fellow members and then end up leaving the Church when they conclude that it has no room for them and they start feeling sorry for themselves.
What I’m about to say may be a hard pill to swallow for both liberals and conservatives.
I believe that we need each other. That’s right, all of you conservatives out there who sometimes drive me nuts with your ideas need to be there for me. And yes, perhaps to your chagrin, that means that you need me too.
I believe that God created us liberal and conservative for much the same reason that He created us male and female. We need each other to survive, to maintain balance and to draw from the strengths of each other. Although our levels of liberalness vs. conservativeness may fluctuate over the course of our lives (mine certainly have), I don’t believe that leaning more towards one side has to come at the expense of the other. In fact, it shouldn’t.
I’m now going to take the liberty of over-generalizing what it means to be liberal or conservative. Of course, there are many, many grey areas, so please don’t accuse me of not seeing them. Most of us (hopefully) maintain a healthy balance of the two. However, as a general rule of thumb, liberals bring the following assets to the table of Mormonism:
- Open-mindedness and willingness to accept multi-interpretations of the same Gospel.
- Compassion and understanding for those who don’t fit the mold.
- Willingness and sometimes even eagerness to change when change is needed.
On the other side of things, conservatives are generally stronger in the following areas:
- Dedication and loyalty to the faith.
- Unwavering testimony even during times of intense doubt.
- Protecting the Church from undue or negative change and influence.
Some of these strengths can also be weaknesses, depending on how we apply them. For example, conservatives may be so concerned about tradition and literal interpretation, that they fail to see the need for change when it’s needed. Were it not so, the priesthood ban would have either never happened or would have probably ended much sooner. On the other hand, the unwavering faith and loyalty to the prophets on the part of conservative members was the glue that kept the Church together during incredibly difficult times in our history such as polygamy and the pioneer journey west. Bottom line: liberals give wings to the Church when it needs to fly, while conservatives keep it grounded when the skies are too stormy to make it safe.
What I’m not asking for is for the Church or the prophet to sanction my personal ideas and opinions. What I am asking for is for fellow members to acknowledge that I can legitimately maintain my beliefs without necessarily being guilty of apostasy, heresy, or spreading false doctrine. I may even be correct in my seemingly wacky views. No one is required to agree with me, but I am required to follow my personal truths as I believe that God has revealed them to me. And when this is done within the frame of reason and acceptability that the Church has deemed appropriate – which allows for more dispute and variation than most members even realize – then I think we need to respect the liberal views of our fellow brothers and sisters: views that may be too liberal for us, but perhaps not so for our Heavenly Father.
So, my conservative brothers and sisters, make some room for us on the teeter totter.
And to my fellow liberals: don’t get off or it’s just going to come crashing down on all of us.