Let’s just get this out of the way first: I do not share your political views.
This does not mean that I am not an “active,” “faithful,” committed Mormon. It does not mean that I have failed to sustain the prophet or that I no longer believe the Church is true.
It simply means that, in applying what I have been taught in church my whole life – love one another, pray always, follow Christ, study the scriptures, choose the right, feed His sheep, hearken to the Spirit, etc. – I have come to a different set of political conclusions than you have.
Since our separate politics are grounded in a shared faith, don’t be surprised that I sometimes interpret our faith differently than you do. It’s not because I am trying to bend Mormonism to fit liberalism any more than you are consciously bending Mormonism to fit your conservatism. Which is to say, we both probably do this from time to time because we are imperfect people striving for a clearer view. I’ll assume you’re doing your best in good faith; please learn to do the same for me.
By now I’ve had a lifetime of practice dealing with Mormons who see politics differently than me. I’ve adjusted to being a political minority in a conservative faith and learned some things about communicating across partisan lines. Since the internet may be exposing you to liberal Mormon views for the first time or with much greater frequency, may I offer some practical tips for this cross-partisan communication?
1. Just because you disagree with something someone posted – or feel like you recognize yourself in their comments – understand that 99% of the time this is not meant as an attack on you. Just like all those messages you post “in defense of traditional families” that you claim aren’t meant as an attack on gay people or their political allies. Learn not to take liberal posts personally.
2. Learn to appreciate when people share things close to their heart, even if it’s not what you believe. Avoid the impulse to correct them or criticizing their reasoning. When you feel prompted to share your testimony with everyone on Facebook, I don’t respond by criticizing it. Learn to respond in kind.
3. If you find yourself involved in a discussion across political lines, ground your communication in personal reflections and experiences. Resist the impulse to engage in a quote-off in which you pour forth your favorite (context-free) verses or General Authority quotes or church video clips to prove that you are right. On my mission we called this “Bible bashing” and it’s as pointless now as it was then. It’s also just not the purpose of social media (or conversation in general). We haven’t all signed up for the debate society here.
4. Do your best to be open to considering different viewpoints, on politics and our shared faith. As a liberal Mormon I have to do this almost every week in church as people assume that political conservatism is part of Mormonism doctrine. (It’s not.) I’ve learned to love these people anyway and to rejoice in our common faith. I’ve learned profound truths from them, even if we see other things differently. I hope you can have a similar experience. It’s wonderfully rewarding.
5. If someone shares something that gets under your skin and you really, really, really feel that you must correct them, please contact them in private. Yes, I know, the internet is public. But if they didn’t call you out specifically, then the offense is private. In fact, you may be the only one who knows about it. So – if you must – send a personal message asking for clarification or greater understanding. After all, we’ve all written things on social media that weren’t as elegant as we might later hope. (Trust me, I’ve seen some of your Facebook posts just as you’ve seen some of mine.) With a mutual search for understanding can come reconciliation, which is much more important than correction.
As a lifelong liberal Mormon, trust me when I say that I’ve had all these political debates before. I know where I stand. No quote you can pull out is going to be the magic bullet that changes my beliefs, just as the same is true for you. On the other hand, I’m committed to considering your experience and personal views if you’ll be respectful of mine.
If we’re not careful, we risk using social media to broadcast our own sins – of judgment, anger, and pride – from the housetops (see D&C 1:3). With a little practice, however, it really is not that hard to talk across political lines in ways that strengthen common bonds rather than reinforcing divisions. We can follow the Savior’s direction to avoid contention, even on the internet (see 3 Nephi 3:29). Avoiding political contention will take effort on all of our parts. But as with any effort toward friendship and compassion, the potential rewards are eternal.
Thanks for this post. I couldn’t agree more. Let’s hope it reaches a wide audience. I would suggest a recent, fascinating study that illuminates the origins of the political divide in the U.S. The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, by Yuval Levin. It shows how two different views of human nature shaped political thought in Britain and America after the French Revolution. It provides a starting point for understanding the honorable intentions of both sides.
I am one of those that used to consider myself a conservative, even staunchly conservative. I'm since repented of my ways, but I've not "seen the light" and become a liberal. Far from it. I would be best described as a political rationalist at best, political agnostic at worst. If I default to a position, it usually begins with a libertarian bent. Having a political ideology is almost like wearing your team colors. I wish people would give us picking political teams.
Thanks for the book recommendation. That’s right up my alley and I’ll have to add it to my list.
Peter J Brown,
Thanks for your thoughts. I’ve comfortable calling myself a liberal but have plenty of libertarian leanings as well. I’ve given up hope that most people will ditch their labels, but I do wish we could do a better job talking and listening across the lines. I think many people would find interesting connections that are only blocked by partisanship. Certainly it would free us to focus on other shared characteristics over the divisiveness of politics.
I heard Jon Stewart say in an interview once that he felt the media played up the political divide too much. As an example, he said he felt the division between people with children and those without was more profound and yet rarely the subject of the nightly news. Whether the particular example is right, it does highlight the way we tend to accentuate political differences over other everything else in this country at this time.
I agree with the thoughts expressed in this post. I wonder if it could be rewritten to exclude the condescension and sanctimony?
Honestly, I tried. But it got flat and pointless. And I’ve found so far that that condescension and sanctimony seem to be in the eye of the beholder. I’ll keep working on the balance.
I’m glad you were able to see through to some of the merit of my points. I do honestly believe that they apply across the spectrum – it’s just that as a liberal in a conservative faith, I’ve had most experience speaking across the boundary in that direction and receiving poor communication in the opposite direction. Trust me when I say that I get plenty frustrated with how liberals communicate, too.
Appreciate this sentiment. Wishing to be understood instead of wishing to be correct by attempting to make Conservative Mormons look stupid… What a concept!
Please share this with the other writers at Rational Faiths. Thanks.
I also hope this starts an actual CONVERSATION about this stuff. Mike Barker runs his site and has blocked any further comments on his last blog post “What does my Mormonism Demand of Me?”
Comments weren’t going his way, so he stopped them completely. It’s that open minded liberalism he’s touting at work. Or perhaps, yet another benefit of white priviledge? Lol
By Conservative Mormons you mean Mormon conservatives, right?
It is a habit of Mormon conservatives to conflate religion and politics and treat Liberal Mormons and Mormon liberals as identical. We need to fight that sort of sloppy thinking.
I’m glad you appreciated the sentiment I was expressing.
I won’t try to speak for Michael Barker or his decisions about his blog. But I will stand up for “open minded liberalism” and declare clearly that it doesn’t (and can’t) mean allowing a platform for all speech (regardless of intent or impact). It doesn’t mean that one has to listen for as long as someone else chooses to filibuster. It only means that we will make a serious effort to understand the others’ side, even if we don’t ultimately accept it. Frankly, I wish such open-mindedness crossed ideological lines. Then maybe we could just call it humility. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet, in either direction. Or, I should say, I at least am not there yet.
You are right that I may have more accurately addressed Mormon conservatives. But then that sounds to me like we’re emphasizing the “Mormon” part, as though the point were to distinguish them from Protestant conservatives instead of to distinguishing politically conservative Mormons from politically liberal Mormons.
Whatever the appropriate language, it has also been my experience that there is substantial overlap between the categories: most Mormon conservatives I’ve known are also conservative Mormons (and vice versa). So I don’t think there was much real harm done.
In the future, I will do my best to avoid sloppy thinking.
This is a bit of propaganda by a probable hypocrite.
Do you feel that every attempt at calling for understanding is propaganda meant to promote a particular point of view? With that level of suspicion, there would seem to be little room for productive dialogue. This is only buttressed by your assumption of hypocrisy on my part. I can assure you that I do try to follow my own rules – though I recognize that I am not perfect at doing so. In my understanding, this makes me simply human. But then, maybe that statement is just propaganda too?
Without a doubt, every attempt to call for “understanding” (which is not what you did) is propaganda for a particular point of view.
You have not called for productive dialog. You have issued diktats.