Wednesday, October 29, 2008

God needs more democrats

Thanks to Bob for this article. (I've shortened it quite a bit, for the full article see bob's blog.)

If this was applicable in 1998, it's even more applicable today.

Here's also a link to an article from the UofU's Daily Chronicle, originally published in 2004. I've linked to it before, it's a good one.

Dan Harrie, Salt Lake Tribune, May 3, 1998
10/27/2008 05:51 PM MDT

On May 3, 1998, the Salt Lake Tribune reported the following interview with Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the First Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Jensen, at the time a member of the Church's Public Affairs Committee, was "designated by church officials to respond to The Salt Lake Tribune's request for an interview on the topic of partisan imbalance in Utah and among LDS members."

The LDS Church, through a high-ranking leader, is making its strongest public statement to date about the need for political diversity among members, while expressing concerns the Republican Party is becoming the "church party."

"There is sort of a division along Mormon/non-Mormon, Republican/Democratic lines," says Elder Marlin Jensen, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. "We regret that more than anything -- that there would become a church party and a non-church party. That would be the last thing that we would want to have happen."

Jensen said major national political parties may take stands that do not coincide with teachings of the 10 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but that should not put them out of bounds for members....

-- The LDS Church's reputation as a one-party monolith is damaging in the long run because of the seesaw fortunes of the national political parties.

-- The overwhelming Republican bent of LDS members in Utah and the Intermountain West undermines the checks-and-balances principle of democratic government.

-- Any notion that it is impossible to be a Democrat and a good Mormon is wrongheaded and should be "obliterated."

-- Faithful LDS members have a moral obligation to actively participate in politics and civic affairs, a duty many have neglected.

...Jensen, who was called as a general authority in 1989, said high church officials lament the near-extinction of the Democratic Party in Utah and the perception -- incorrect though it is -- that the GOP enjoys official sanction of the church....

"One of the things that prompted this discussion in the first place was the regret that's felt about the decline of the Democratic Party [in Utah] and the notion that may prevail in some areas that you can't be a good Mormon and a good Democrat at the same time," Jensen said.

"There have been some awfully good men and women who have been both and are both today. So I think it would be a very healthy thing for the church -- particularly the Utah church -- if that notion could be obliterated."

The idea that Mormonism and Democratic Party affiliation are incompatible traces back to the early 1970s, when LDS general authority Ezra Taft Benson, who later became church president, was quoted in an Associated Press interview as saying it would be difficult for a faithful member to be a liberal Democrat.

Church officials later claimed the comment was taken out of context, although the AP stood by its account.

Jensen said concerns exist on two levels about the unofficial linkage of the Republican Party and Mormon Church.

One is the fear that by being closely identified with one political party, the church's national reputation and influence is subject to the roller-coaster turns and dips of that partisan organization. Also bothersome is that the uncontested dominance of the Republican Party in Utah deprives residents of the debate and competition of ideas that underlie good government.

"There is a feeling that even nationally as a church, it's not in our best interest to be known as a one-party church," Jensen said. "The national fortunes of the parties ebb and flow. Whereas the Republicans may clearly have the upper hand today, in another 10 years they may not."

..."The Democratic Party has in the last 20 years waned to the point where it really is almost not a factor in our political life," Jensen said. "There is a feeling that that is not healthy at all -- that as a state we suffer in different ways. But certainly any time you don't have the dialogue and the give-and-take that the democratic process provides, you're going to be poorer for it in the long run."

There also are more immediate, tangible costs, he said.

Jensen blamed the Republican monopoly for contributing to Utah political leaders' inability or unwillingness to grapple with long-range planning issues. He pointed to the lack of state leadership on issues of open-space preservation and land-use planning.... "There are probably issues like that environmentally, educationally that we'd really benefit from if there were a more robust dialogue going on. But we've lacked that and I think we've suffered somewhat because of it."

..."This is the second dramatic time in the history of the state when forceful signals have been flashed from church headquarters calling on Mormons to choose up political sides more evenly," said J.D. Williams, retired University of Utah political scientist.

Williams compared Jensen's public pronouncements to the church's attempts in the 1890s to divide congregations up evenly among the two major political parties....

Jensen also referred to the 19th-century splitting of congregations along partisan lines, when the territorial People's and Liberal parties were abandoned in favor of national party affiliations.

He repeated an anecdote told by prominent LDS Democrat Oscar McConkie about his father's recollections of a church leader telling a congregation during a Sunday morning meeting to "sign up to be Republicans."

At that time, Mormons favored the Democratic Party because it was less stridently anti-polygamy than were Republicans.

When members of the flock returned for an afternoon session, the Republican sign-up sheet remained blank, Jensen said. "Brothers and sisters, you have misunderstood," said the church leader. "God needs Republicans."

"And Oscar said his father would wink and say, `And you know, Oscar, those damned Republicans think they've had God on their side ever since,' " Jensen said....

"We need to develop a tolerance -- so we don't demonize people that we have a disagreement with," Peck said. "It really was the church leaders' position on abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment [in the 1970s] that was the death of the Utah Democratic Party, because it became a litmus test," he said.

Pro-choice and, more recently, gay-rights stands of the national Democratic Party have helped Republicans paint the donkey-symbol party as taboo.

Jensen said it is time for LDS members to take a broader view of political affiliation.

"We would probably hope that they wouldn't abandon a party necessarily because it has a philosophy or two that may not square with Mormonism. Because, as I say, [parties] in their philosophies ebb and flow," Jensen said.

"You know, the Republicans came very close last time to bringing a pro-abortion plank into their platform. That was maybe the biggest battle of their [1996 national] convention," he said. "Which shows that if you're a pure ideologue, eventually you're going to have trouble in either party."

"Everyone who is a good Latter-day Saint is going to have to pick and choose a little bit regardless of the party that they're in and that may be required a lot more in the future than it has been in the past. But I think there's room for that and the gospel leaves us lots of latitude."

3 comments:

David said...

This really vindicates my position about the need for balance. I'm hardly a dyed-in-the-wool democrat nationally, but I find that locally I am picking Democrats almost without exception.

I think I may have noticed the key to that quote by Ezra Taft Benson: "it would be difficult for a faithful member to be a liberal Democrat." I would say that his statement is basically correct if we take a liberal democrat to mean a democrat on the liberal or left wing of the democratic party, in other words the more extreme among the democrats. Moderate or conservative members of the Democratic party should find no difficulty in being faithful tot he church. Perhaps the real tragedy here is that we have never had a high level church official telling the AP that "it would be difficult for a faithful member to be a far right wing Republican."

George and WP said...

In Bruce Hafen's biography of Elder Neal Maxwell it is made clear that Elder Maxwell asked Elder Jensen to make that presentation. A number of folk whom I heard comment about it at the time simply dismissed Elder Jensen's words because they did not come from the Twelve or the First Presidency. In retrospect that simply was not true.

Sarah said...

Fantastic, Alice! I love this article! It seems so obvious, but to some it's not. Now, unfortunately it was not in the "true" (rolling eyes) newspaper-- the Deseret News.

And yes, you can be a Democrat and have a testimony.

Amen.