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No politician or no political party is perfect. Parties, for the most part, are self-interested creations. Without an effective check from an equal opposition, parties will solidify power which results in single-party domination, and not act for the best interest of the country or their constituents. Both leading American political parties are guilty of this intention. Both parties have dangerous extremes.
The Brethren understand the dangers of being aligned with only one party. No political party is favored by the Church. The Church’s official statement about political neutrality states: “The Church’s mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in matters of party politics. This applies in all of the many nations in which it is established. The Church does not: Endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms.”
Political extremism leads to factionalism, and at its worst, hatred. Extremism is at the root of the worst atrocities and human rights violations in history. For Latter-day Saints, there is no support for extremism in our doctrine or history. Joseph Smith declared a universal truth when he said, “Through proving contraries, truth is made manifest.” This statement has universal application in politics and is the bedrock of the vision of the Founders, as expressed in the constitutional balance of power. Extremism is the province of despots and totalitarian regimes. Nonetheless, it often raises its ugly head among the people of the world. Latter-day Saints should be on the front lines of pushing back against extremism.
We have been counseled for years to be politically engaged. The First Presidency released a letter to Latter-day Saints in the United States shortly before the 2020 election, as they regularly do for US national elections, reinforcing this advice: “We urge Latter-day Saints to be active citizens by registering, exercising their right to vote, and engaging in civic affairs. We also urge you to spend the time needed to become informed about the issues and candidates you will be considering.”5
Political engagement can be more than voting, and less than running for elected office as a candidate. From education to the environment, law enforcement to labor regulations, immigration to investments—we can learn about and support issues with our voices, money, and time. We can work with campaigns and non- profit organizations. There is a wide range of opportunity, both large and small, to be engaged in politics and government.
As Latter-day Saint Christians, we are commanded to love one another (Matthew 22:36–40). That is a tall order. This is not a simple suggestion. It is as strong a command as any taught by the Savior. Yet when it comes to differences in politics, many folks view vitriol as excusable, just part of the battle. We can disagree on issues, but we must never allow the language of hate to enter our conversations. Sadly, this vitriol is far too prevalent in social media, even among members of the Church who should know better.
Even when we agree with people, we can’t have our political party be just a place where we find connection in throwing “bombs” at the other side. Although it brings connection, it also generates fear and anxiety of others and exacerbates division even further. Dr. Brené Brown refers to the tendency to create a common enemy in her book Braving the Wilderness: “Common enemy intimacy is the opposite of true belonging. If the bond we share with others is simply that we hate the same people, the intimacy we experience is intense, immediately gratifying, and an easy way to discharge outrage and pain. It is not, however, fuel for real connection.”
A notable example of disagreement without vilification comes from political opposites in 2017. Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, traveled to Washington DC to a rally on behalf of Donald Trump with the intention to counterprotest. Newsome knew there was potential for ugly and violent confrontations but was surprised to be invited onto the stage by event organizer Tommy Hodges. Newsome spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement and the need for justice for African Americans killed by police officers, while some of the crowd chanted in response, “White lives matter.” The Washington Post reported that he concluded his remarks by saying, “If we really want to make America great, we do it together.” Despite those chants, Newsome received a positive response from most members of the crowd, as well as supportive messages on social media after he had returned home.
It is my prayer that as Latter-day Saints, we acknowledge the beam in our own eye rather than the mote in another’s eye and rise to the Lord’s expectation for us to love one another.
The following was taken from the book, Listen, Learn, and Love: Improving Latter-day Saint Culture by Richard Ostler, currently on sale at Cedarfort.com.