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 Peterson. Lowell Bennion. Mo Udall. Eugene 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?