Mormon and liberal? Really???

Dear Ask Mormon Girl:

My wife and I recently heard you on the radio, and we thrilled when you used the words “Mormon” and “liberal” in the same sentence to describe yourself.  We sometimes feel like we are the only liberal Mormons in the Church.  Can you direct us to other podcasts, writings, etc.?


T & M in Tooele County

Dear T& M:

You’re not alone!  Every time I encounter another Mormon liberal, I feel the way I felt that night when I ran out onto the field of the Rose Bowl for the great LDS Southern California Dance Festival of 1985:  Stoked!  Proud! And finally, truly, among my people!

Unless you live in an urban or university ward, chances are you’re one of just a handful of liberals sitting in your Sacrament Meeting. A recent Gallup poll found that Mormons are the most conservative and most Republican of any major religious group in the United States.

How this came to be is a long and complicated story.  History records that around the time Utah was seeking statehood, Church officials divided wards down the middle, assigning half to vote as Democrats and half as Republicans, and even then sometimes instructed members to vote in a bloc.

The fierce rightward swing of Mormon Church members came about sometime in the mid-twentieth century.  Why? A number of factors, no doubt:  among them, the waning power of labor unions among white men in the western US, fierce anti-Communist sentiment modeled by Church leaders like Ezra Taft Benson, the rise of the so-called “culture wars” over hot button issues like the ERA and abortion, the popularity of Ronald Reagan, and upward financial mobility among Mormons.

Which brings us to our present moment, in a deeply bifurcated America and a post-Proposition 8 Mormondom, perhaps the most politically conservative moment in our collective Mormon history.  It’s a time when one might hear his or her local Elders’ Quorum President cite President Barack Obama as a sign of the end times without nary so much as a chuckle or challenge from the group. (Yup, true story.)

How to survive with one’s sense of humor intact?  Sing yourself the lyrics to “Give Said the Little Stream,” an anthem of liberal Mormonism if I ever heard one.  Remember that history is long, the Church is global, and time may in fact be on our side.  And here’s more good news:  the Gallup poll found that a whopping 8% of American Mormons identify as liberals!  Yes, 8%!  Which means there are between 400,000 and 500,000 liberal Mormons in the United States! Enough liberal Mormons to fill four or five Rose Bowls, or eight Cougar Stadiums!

That’s not even counting all the marvelous Mormon liberals of history.  Esther PetersonLowell BennionMo UdallEugene England.  Heck, this Mormon Girl even witnessed the great Hugh Nibley himself hold forth at an anti-Gulf War teach-in at the BYU Varsity Theater.

Today, thanks to the internet, it’s much easier to get connected to these great exemplars through their biographies and writings.  Of course, the internet has also given Mormon liberals an unprecedented opportunity to connect with one another through blogs like Mormon Matters.

I’m thrilled to have had this chance to connect with you, T & M.  Readers, do you have favorite liberal Mormon books and blogs to recommend to T & M in Tooele County?


Filed under bennion, liberals, nibley, politics

16 responses to “Mormon and liberal? Really???

  1. Love this.

    I think that, more than anything, I feel I sometimes need a safe place to be to vent my liberal angst, and to gush over the things I love that happen in our government, too, that most of my friends/family will have no sympathy for and will, in fact, take as a kind of a “goad” or challenge instead of just allowing me my happy and sad moments.

    I’ll def. be back.

  2. Umm, can we be friends. I’m in San Diego, you’re evidently in San Diego – and I am a Mormon girl who is all about the Q&A.
    Thanks for the posts on liberal Mormons too. That gives me good stuff to read.

  3. brhe

    Interesting stuff.

    While I don’t consider myself politically liberal at all, I feel like I relate well with members of the church who are.

    I feel like many members of the church are very uninformed and form their ideologies based on what their parents and friends’ ideologies are (but then again, I feel like most of America is like that).

    I, personally, believe that those who are greedy and prideful and turn a blind eye to opportunities to help the poor and less fortunate when they are able to help, will stand accountable for those actions. However, I don’t feel like high taxes for social programs is a good answer because I feel like that is removing agency from charity (not to mention I think the government sucks at running stuff). Instead, I think a greater emphasis needs to be placed on helping each other out as a people, without direct government intervention.

    One day I will live the law of consecration, and happily donate all I have to the church to use as it sees fit. I will use my agency to do that. But today, even though I am against high taxes, I will still give what I can to all of the causes that I can.

  4. ed

    I often hear the label “liberal Mormon” (especially around election time) but I have never heard a real definition of what that means in context. I am certain it cannot mean the same thing as “liberal” in the general political sphere. I don’t identify with any specific party but seem to share many of the same ideals and principles as you, as discussed here. Help me understand what ‘lib mo’ means–maybe I can officially join the club…

  5. HH

    Thanks! I no longer feel alone!

  6. Monica

    Me me!!! I’m buried in Southern Utah and I’m Mormon AND I PUBLICLY campaigned for President Obama. I’m even more liberal than President Obama!!
    I’m humming “Your not alone” by Michael Mclean now.

  7. rb

    I consider myself a solid “moderate” – not affiliated with any political party, against abortion (in general), but pro gun control, generally supportive of health care (the devil’s in the details) and climate change, against the occasionally trendy calls to change the constitution (senate structure, electoral college). I like Dianne Feinstein but I think Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi are nuts. I think Obama is doing a pretty good job in many ways. Beyond all that, I’m happily, deeply, completely mormon. My liberal friends (I’m a university professor, so I have many) consider me a solid conservative. My neighbors/ward members (I’m in AZ so I have lots of those) think I’m a heretic liberal.

    My point is that religion does not equal political party or philosophy. Think for yourself. Be educated. Study issues and make conclusions. Respect others’ opinions and support compromise (it’s what created our country). Smile and say “I disagree and we can still be friends” to those of the John Birch society or that want to argue.

  8. Adam

    Political unrest, a very motivating factor in the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior. However, as we all know, this was part of the plan. Today, we have a civil war in the United States. One that will divide the country further and further. Let’s remember that the only label that we should carry with us, is that of Disciple. Those who are labeling themselves “liberal mormons” or “conservative mormons” mark themselves, and neither are in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ. I see this becoming a problem that is creeping into the church meetings. From Pulpits, in prayers and from Leaders. This will only provide a stumbling block for Lucifer to trip us up. Repentance will necessarily follow, as we present the outside world into the Lords Houses and Temples. I pray often to let go of the feelings that ive learned or have been created in me, due to this political unrest. I have strong feelings about issues, but i can say that i try to base them on the Scriptures whenever i can. I allow the Lord to take the burden from me as often as possible. Remember, Remember, Saith the Lord. What should we Remember? We are called, we are chosen, we are Disciples of God.

  9. PMC

    I am one of the “usual” Mormon Conservatives. And while I understand where you appear to be coming from, it really doesn’t sound much different from a Liberal describing why they are Liberal, religion aside. And that is that somehow being a Liberal is all about how wonderful it is to give to others and “spread the love” (and while your ” ‘Give’ said the little stream” line was funny, it just accentuates my point). It’s always frustrating to me to hear Liberals talk like that… as if they have some kind of claim to fame as being real “givers”, when their main political goal is to force everyone to give a greater majority of their earned income to the government to do with as they see fit (whether it be what is best for themselves or the country, take your pick). I think the REAL reason that more Mormons are Conservatives is that the church teaches its members to have a true appreciation for our free agency. What better way to use our free agency than to have our own say in how our own hard-earned money goes to use. I will never understand why Liberals of any kind think it is such a noble thing to fight to force more people to be required to give more of their money to an unreliable and increasingly moral and God-free government. Why not take ” “Give” said the little stream” to mean that we should give of our own money freely to local shelters or to the old man on the street?

    I think our free agency is a gift that exists for our own self improvement, and it is more powerful in a free country. To decide that it is a good thing to take more from those that earn more just because you think it’s best that way seems awfully selfish. Imagine if your child worked hard all school year, but then brought home a report card with all C’s on it, and when asked what happened, they replied that originally the card had all A’s on it, but the teacher decided to knock a few grades off the report cards of the best performers and add those points to the worst performers. Would you think the teacher was a wonderful person? Do you think maybe that would hurt your child’s resolve to try as hard during the next semester? Let’s leave the choices involved with giving and goodwill to the individuals, instead of the all-powerful (yes, especially now that Obama is in office) government. Thanks.

  10. adam

    PMC…I like your comments that had to do with grades being socialized. I’ve helped many young people see clearly by using that analogy. They typically can’t understand because they have no life experiencto go off of. I’m strictly talking about the fiscal response at this point.
    As far as our agency, I have to say that Elder Bednar has opened my eyes about that topic. He compared making a covenant -to a free agent who chooses a team and enters into a contract. While a free agent, he can choose to do what he sees fit…but upon signing the contract he makes a choice and while he continues to choose to abide the laws of the contract, he really has no choice but to follow it or face consequences. Like wise, We as endowed members have chosen to take upon ourselves covenants that have to do with money, the only choice is to abide the covenant or face consequences. I completly agree that a righteous inspiration seeking member can choose better how to impart substance unto the poor and needy than any government not lead by that same inspiration.
    As for me and my house, we choose the Lord in all things.
    Remember that we do not yet live by all the laws because they are adapted to the capacity of the weak. Each individual has the responsibility to grow in knowledge and then were obligated to follow it if we want to stay in good standing with the Lord. I reiterate that we are only disciples and by no other name we shall be saved, not conservative nor liberal.

  11. Alan

    The liberal arguments make for sense to me than the conservative arguments. I don’t see what is wrong with a society voting to tax themselves to help those who cannot help themselves. If this can be done without government, I am all for it. I don’t believe it can. I plan to vote for liberals for the forseeable future.

  12. Joanna….I heard about you in the press and I had to come and check out your blog. I’ve been perusing through your old blog posts and see if it really is true that there’s a liberal democrat out there whose also Mormon.

    I left the church for various reasons but have never gone back because mainly political reasons—-I am a Democrat. Especially recently with the whole Prop 8 thing and the actions of people like Glen Beck and Mitt Romney…the Mormon church is too entwined in this backward conservative thinking for me to feel ever comfortable enough to attend a meeting again. It just seems the religion has completely disconnected itself from the bigger, compassionate picture in life.

    I do miss the community the church brings….but I don’t miss the consistent judgement and chastisement for my political beliefs. I understand that my spiritual health is completely separate to political beliefs but…when you have to sit next to this chastisement every week…it begins to wear on your soul and one wonders if religion was meant to be boxed in like it is and defined over a 3 hr meeting on a Sun. I’ve often felt closer to God walking by myself through a park on a Sunday afternoon than I ever have being stuck in sacrament meeting.

    I admire those small percentage of liberal mormons who can go to church every Sunday and put up with the snickers and the ‘I’ll pray for you’s’….but I just wasn’t strong enough to cope with this. Mormonism is hard as it is…without a big scarlet L for liberal painted on your chest to make it even harder.

    I just think God is a lot more loving and accepting than the Mormon church associates itself with by its political leanings….I felt a tad lonelier when I left…but spiritually I felt amazingly free. I practice my own spirituality at home and its an amalgation of things I’ve learned from Mormonism and various other religions along the way. I feel like this is what truly God intended for us….the chance to embrace everything we’ve been given.

    Anyway….have no idea why I’ve just written this novel on a complete strangers blog. x

  13. Gary Olson

    Define Liberal,Moderate, and Conservative in it’s proper context of today’s world…..E.G. United States or Russia,or Syria for example.

  14. Travis

    I know there are a few of us out here, the silence of the minority is unfortunately present among the LDS community, especially here in So. Utah the most densely packed group of conservative Republicans in the state of UT. I bite my tongue a lot as I cringe at the conservative rhetoric that makes its way into gospel doctrine. Thankfully our Elders quorum let’s me teach now and again, its fun helping people look at life from a different perspective, other than the one mom and dad gave them. The church is great, I feel I have a duty to help my ward members as best I can. Tell me do any other liberal/libertarian’s feel the same?

    • Gary D Olson Sr.

      “So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a
      false bias to the judgement,that we,upon many occasions,see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the firs magnitude to society. This circumstance,if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who ever so thoroughly persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. And a further reason for caution,in this respect,might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principals than their antagonist. Ambition,avarice,personal animosity,party opposition,and many other motives are not more laudable than these,are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question.
      Were there not these inducements to moderation,,nothing could be more ill- judged than that intolerant spirit which has at all times characterized political parties.”

      Quote; Alexander Hamilton,New York Federalist Papers, 1st page,circa 1777.

      May I suggest that our quasi intellectualism include extended study of these 85 pages…..papers preceding our Constitution. Our Constitution;a divinely inspired document……..G. Olson Midvale Utah

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