In the most recent General Conference, Pres Oaks gave an ethnocentric political talk called “Defending Our Divinely Inspired Constitution.” While I disagreed with approximately 90% of what he said, he ended with this statement:
“We encourage our members to refrain from judging one another in political matters. We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate. We teach correct principles and leave our members to choose how to prioritize and apply those principles on the issues presented from time to time. We also insist, and we ask our local leaders to insist, that political choices and affiliations not be the subject of teachings or advocacy in any of our Church meetings.”General Conference April 2021, Sunday Afternoon session
Yesterday, I was listening to a discussion between British historians Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook about the overarching trends of culture wars, dating all the way back to the ancient Romans and Greeks. Part of the discussion was about the historical precedent of erecting and subsequently removing statues as a symbol of the changing cultural values. The clashes arise when the two camps each see the other as “evil” or something you cannot compromise with or you have betrayed your values. They discussed an example of a statue of Victory or Nike that was in the Roman senate. As Christians began to take over, many of them believed all the Pagan statuary was demonic and had to go. They wanted to pull down the statue, although the statue had been erected to commemorate their leaders’ prior victories, the strength of their nation, and the inspiring ideals embodied by winged victory.
Likewise, in our current culture wars, there have been arguments about statues. Statues portraying and honoring slave-holders have been torn down while some conservatives have decried this as “cancel culture” and throwing away history. There have been calls for BYU to rename buildings that are currently named for white supremacists, slave-holders, and other racists. These calls also resulted in the commission of a race study I blogged about previously.
In a different podcast I listened to about a month ago, they discussed the idea that after the 60s, the left won the culture wars, but the right won politically and economically, meaning that the most common outlook, particularly among the Boomer generation, was to be both economically conservative (anti-taxation, anti-welfare, pro-business) and socially liberal or progressive (pro-civil rights, pro-equality, pro-freedom of choice for individuals). Now that we are several decades later, there is a backlash against social progressivism from the right, and there is backlash against economic conservatism from the left, so even though these arguments were “won,” they are far from over.
Whatever the outcome of these disagreements, these historians made some very interesting points about culture wars, that they have always existed, and that they are always religious in nature. One of the historians pointed out that in the US in particular, the religious right attempts to frame their anti-social progressive stance as a religious imperative against the “godless, secularist liberals,” but it’s important to recognize that the progressive position is also a religious viewpoint. Both sides are making their arguments from different interpretations of theology, and they always have been. Martin Luther’s civil rights speeches are all religious, all viewing the oppressed black Americans as ready for God’s liberation, like the ancient Israelites. When we talk about culture wars today, we are usually talking about either preserving something conservatives feel is a religious imperative (traditional values, hierarchical relationship, the authority of the Church), or purging the Church of things that run counter to Jesus’ teachings (such as sexism, racism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression and hatred, and yes, authoritarianism and hierarchy).
Essentially, the culture wars repeat forever throughout history because the varieties found in human temperament repeat. The historians identified several flavors of argument in culture wars, all of which were very familiar:
Traditional. When we argue for something that is traditional, we are trying to preserve and honor the values we’ve been taught, things our parents and ancestors created, reverred, and handed down, things that we believe have created a society we value that we don’t want to see change. Losing them could mean losing everything.
Progressive. When we argue that what we want is progressive, we are saying that the old system is harmful or limiting in some way, and that we need to shed these elements to be able to achieve something better.
Reactive. This is basically the traditional argument re-asserting itself after some progress has been made and some traditions have been shed. This is the slippery slope argument, the backlash pointing out what’s been perceived to be lost already and worrying that more will be lost.
Restorative. This is framing a progressive argument as a restoration of the original that was lost. It takes some of the fear out of change by claiming that the traditions were incorrect or not original, and now we are getting back to what was really intended.
That last one really puts the progressive nature of the Church in a fresh light. The Church today (post-1960s) feels very traditional and reactive, and not very progressive, but I have long suspected that a lot of that is 1) temperament of individuals–particularly those most likely to be “promoted” into leadership, and 2) borrowing doctrines and beliefs from politically conservative Evangelicals. But every so often, if you look for it, you will see glimpses of the Church’s progressive bent. The Church’s views on immigration, equality for women, reproduction, homosexuality, and race are mostly to the left of conservative Evangelicals. They aren’t where I would like to see them, but they are also not as reactionary or traditional or intransigent as other conservative faiths.
If we look at the substance of the arguments that people are making in the culture wars, whichever side you come down on, you have a values-based or religious argument for your view. You think that preserving or changing a tradition will lead to more human flourishing. You find evidence for your view in the values you hold dear, most often Christian (or religious) values you were taught. If you want to find evidence that women should be treated equally and with respect, and that they can contribute on par with men, there is plenty of evidence that the original Christian church did this (far better than we do today). If you want to find evidence that women required protection and owed obedience to their husbands, you can find that too. The Bible, particularly the New Testament, is full of contradictory evidence. That’s what makes it so subject to proof-texting.
Hippies were very interested in the economic equality described in the New Testament, creating communal living built on the principle of loving each other rather than controlling each other. Conservatives saw this as a rejection of the discipline required to live a Christian life, one that involved sacrifice and duty to family and the hierarchical structure of a patriarchal family. While both these viewpoints may be extreme in practice, both have common ground in the contradictory evidence of the Bible and in a desire for human flourishing, kindness, and devotion to a greater good.
Many of us have felt extremely fatigued by the partisan views at Church, particularly those of us who feel our views are in the minority of an increasingly conservative Church that takes different sides in these highly publicized culture wars. Pres. Oaks also said in his talk:
There are many political issues, and no party, platform, or individual candidate can satisfy all personal preferences. Each citizen must therefore decide which issues are most important to him or her at any particular time. Then members should seek inspiration on how to exercise their influence according to their individual priorities. This process will not be easy. It may require changing party support or candidate choices, even from election to election.
I love the idea that Church members are encouraged to think through our political views and make our own personal, informed decisions without regard to party affiliation. I can think of several Church members for whom this is for sure never going to happen because they would sooner cut off their arm with a rusty railroad spike. Just the fact that it’s possible, and that it’s encouraged by Oaks, gave me a little shard of hope. Listening to these historians describing the eternal human nature of these types of disagreements and how they are framed gave me some anthropological perspective on the politics in our congregations. The culture wars aren’t going anywhere, but perhaps we can take some of the heat out of these arguments if we quit believing everything is good vs. evil, including shrugging it off just a little more when others insist on seeing things in black and white.
The other point in the discussion was about who wins culture wars eventually. Can culture wars be won by grass roots efforts, or does it require those in charge to get on board? The example was given of the English reformation in which Catholic monasteries, Churches, icons, and abbeys were torn down to make way for the new state-led Church of England. Because these efforts were undertaken by the state, they succeeded; however, as a counterpoint argument, there was a lot of pushback, such as the Pilgrimage of Grace in which many Catholics willingly protested and were slaughtered in defense of their beliefs. When Mary I succeeded her father Henry VIII, the backlash was severe with many people tortured and killed at Smithfield for heresy.
Ultimately, the historians concluded that culture wars are won in the university, that whoever persuades the rising generation wins. Across the US, it seems pretty clear what that bodes. Within the Church, it’s a little less clear as the cultures at Church-run schools are very anti-progress when it comes to most of the culture wars. But you never know.
- Do you think the outcome of the current culture wars are a foregone conclusion? Why or why not?
- Do you see (as many have observed elsewhere) that the Church will end up in the same place as the rest of society, just 30 years later) or do you see different trends?
- Do these personality types ring true for you when it comes to the culture wars?
- What impact do you think Oaks’ advice will have on Church culture?
 Except literally everything he just said in his talk which will now be taught in Priesthood and Relief Society over the next six months.
This is a wonderful post that raises crucial issues. Our society is immersed in a culture war, and the future of morality hangs in the balance.
The author is correct that the war was brought by those who are against religion, or at least are against religious ideas. They want to remove all religious ideas from the public realm.
Modern Hollywood is leading the charge with its open and stated agenda of attacking traditional moral values. One movie after another contains glorification of violence and promotion of wanton sexuality. This is causing ever increasing rates of crime, disease, and broken families.
There are also many who attack traditional notions of hard work and self-reliance. It is beyond dispute that the number of adult children who spend their days doing nothing more than playing video games in their parents’ basements is at epidemic levels.
Something must be done before Western Society reaches its nadir. All reasonable people must take a stand against the attack on moral values. We must not allow morality to be stamped out simply because it has a religious base.
Great post, notwithstanding JCS’s misinterpretation of it.
@JCS the OP’s argument is NOT that progressives are anti-religion. They just focus on different aspects of religion. Your comments are like satirical versions of culture wars except that you appear to be sincere (in your beliefs, not in any attempt to understand other perspectives or engage in respectful debate).
Re the future of the Church, I don’t know that the existence of Church schools is going to stem the tide here. First, only a small fraction of LDS kids go to them (although I’m aware that fraction probably has an outsized influence in leadership positions etc because they’ve been “trained”). Second, although there are a ton of conservatives and some level of indoctrination at BYU, there is also a large population of progressive students who I think are just there because it’s the best, cheapest school they could go to (and it’s a fun school in many ways).
We spent several years in a ward that was 80% young married BYU undergrads. A good chunk of them were *very* conservative – grown up in the Mormon belt and little exposure to other people or ideas. But a *lot* of them were quite progressive and seemed to be doing Mormonism on their own terms. Whether they will last in the Church remains to be seen but I don’t think BYU is all that monolithic or all that successful in radicalizing kids who as high school students are developing their own progressive views. (Currently listening to a Mormon Stories interview with a former seminary teacher in Utah Valley and his accounts of the questions these kids are asking is pretty telling.)
Love how DHO tried to reframe culture wars about gay marriage as a constitutional issue that the SCOTUS got wrong (eye roll).
Interesting story. My wife’s friend’s mom has long been a firm LDS believer and a hardcore QAnoner. My wife’s friend said that her mom was very off-put by Oaks’s talk.
On culture, I find it interesting the tendency of cultures to construct an image of an “other” and to make a boogeyman out of this “other”. By appealing to this boogeyman, many leaders have been able to inspire devotion to a cause/movement. For the church, the boogeyman is “the world” and secularism. It promotes itself to be saving its members from its evil clutches. The more people isolate themselves from outside influences, the more they tend to fear these boogeyman and cling to their traditional values. For many conservatives, the boogeyman is political correctness (and it used to be “big government” although seemingly less so now). Leading voices in conservatism have been very adept at stoking fears and inspiring devotion by amplifying a few anecdotes to prominence and making generalizations of the whole based on those.
With respect to the future culture of the Church, the Bretheren (sorry sisters) will have to decide which strategy to pursue:
1. Go hard core traditional. Alienate the progressives and please the conservatives. The Church becomes less appealing (i.e., smaller) to the masses but stronger because the progressives have been pushed (or self-selected) out.
2. Go progressive. Make changes and admit failures (includes apologies). Alienate TBMs but where are they going to go? Hold on to more progressives and maybe attract some new members.
3. Go somewhere between #1 and #2. Make a lot of changes (like RMN’s first couple of years) but not really (the last year or so). Allow some new narratives (like Soares saying “translation” isn’t translation as we know it) but pull back the stray cats (like what’s happened to Uchdorf).
My guess is we’ll see #3. And I have another prediction: Oaks will be president soon but will NOT go hard core #1. He’s turning into the kinder gentler version of himself lately (“black lives matter, etc.). Don’t forget: Ezra Taft Benson was a crazy John Bircher as an apostle and then he became president and it was all about the BOM, not anti-communism. They tend to grow into the office.
Makes me think of Haidt’s work on moral value systems.
I like the idea that the culture wars are never really won but just migrate around based on current cultural challenges. I even think it’s a feature of humanity. If nothing else, it means the populace has power (as compared to a totalitarian government where the common man has no influence).
As for the church, I feel like at this point the writing is on the wall. Maybe 1 of my teen/ya kids is likely to stay in the church. They are just too disgusted by the church’s approach to their LGBT friends/family members and the disconnect between the roles of women at church and every where else. They are also choosing to go state schools rather than church schools for this reason.
@Josh h I think you’re right that #3 is the strategy being used. There is also this situation where you’ve got people like the Givens basically setting up a parallel reality for Church that allows people to stay engaged but it’s still not the church that you hear about most Sundays. And I think the Church allows those spaces to exist unless they get too vocal or oppositional (like Natasha) in which case it becomes clear that we are still pretty orthodox and authoritarian on the whole. Maybe #3 will work and I generally like middle of the road. But Church “middle of the road” is still really conservative when it comes to women and LGBTQ folks and may not be enough for a lot of people.
Good and timely post. So, a few thoughts:
1. Culture wars are never truly won. Battles are won, but the war itself, as your post indicates, will be fought over and over until the end of time. In this particular era, I’ve really noticed what you’ve pointed out, about culture wars being religious in nature. I work at a university and I belong to the Mormon Church, and I have to say that both are very good at appropriating a kind of protestantism-influenced self-righteousness that essentially guarantees that each side will view the other side as the enemy. IMHO, the left in this country (the political group for which I feel the most affinity) is just as much a victim of its own smug self-righteousness and virtue signaling (what it would term “performative allyship”) as the right is. And it pains me to say that, because I believe very much in some of what the left is seeking. Often, I feel like I’m just watching two Protestant splinter groups fight it out. And since both sides seem to value ideological purity more than they value compromise, I think this is going to be a long fight.
2. I don’t know about the foregone conclusion part of things. I do think that American conservatism is in a place where it will probably have to somewhat re-invent itself in order to make it more palatable to at least some young people. As it is, Republican strategy these days seems less about ideas and policy and more about election/voting re-districting and other high jinks designed to tilt a slight minority into enough of a majority so that they retain some power. On the liberal/democratic side of things, there will have to be some compromise and adjustment in order to push through meaningful, sustaining legislation. The left has to learn, IMHO, that slogans that need to be explained aren’t good slogans. “Defund the police” is a particularly absurd one. It also needs to stop with the revolutionary, all-or-nothing rhetoric. That kind of language is provocative and just helps polarize issues and gives conservatives an excuse not to compromise. I think we are getting to a place where racism, homo- and transphobia, etc. are becoming more visible/proveable and therefore less tolerated, which I think is great, but I’m not sure if the left is capable of the long, sustained and intentional effort (as in, several decades) that it will really take to make lasting, meaningful change. I certainly hope it is.
3. As far as the church, I’m not sure. There will come an inflection point, I think, where there will be a realization that there simply aren’t enough TBM bodies to fill all of the important leadership positions at church (from the Q12 down to the ward level) and there may be a reckoning of some sort. But I think the church has a lot of hills it’s willing to die on and I believe that it will take a lot to force the church to make what I think are changes it needs to make. And there is some evidence that more progressive churches struggle to maintain membership and institutional momentum, so it’s a tricky think either way, I think. I have no idea where the church will be in 30 years, but my sense is that it will change more slowly than society, so it will end up further and further behind, thus, perhaps, becoming the engine of its own obsolescence.
@Brother Sky, you make a lot of good points. I’m really puzzling over how to compromise on some of these issues. Some issues – sure, I can see where a lot of compromise can happen. Some issues, I just don’t see it. I don’t see how to compromise with someone who thinks gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed. I don’t see how to compromise with someone who thinks masks and vaccines are evil. In Church, I don’t see how to compromise with people who think it’s OK to exclude women from all leadership positions. I can do my best not to demonize people who hold those positions – to listen to and try to understand them and to separate their worth as a human being from their ideas (and I certainly understand why a lot of Mormons hold some of the theological positions they hold) – but as far as the positions / ideas themselves, I truly don’t see a compromise. I try not to be totally dualistic but I just think some things are wrong, and I don’t care about ideological purity but these are policies not ideologies. And I also don’t know how to compromise with people who are totally unwilling to compromise with me or treat me with humanity (Trump, and some of the extreme members of the Republican party including our very own Mike Lee, Burgess Owens, and Chris Stewart).
That probably makes me part of the problem but it’s a genuine question I’ve been thinking about & would like to do better on.
Brother Sky: Well said on all points.
Elisa, Yeah, I hear you. I can’t compromise when it comes to mask wearing or folks who are absolutely exclusionary in their thinking. But I do think that there is some compromising that can and does happen in the legislative sphere, which is a sphere that can impact a lot of lives. For example, as absurd and disingenuous as the arguments based on “religious freedom” are against gay marriage and LGBTQ folks in general, the LDS Church did get behind the nondiscrimination housing ordinance in Salt Lake a while ago. I guess I try to approach at least some issues by seeing where there is potential to compromise. Gun laws, for instance, despite much of the fierce rhetoric surrounding them. But you’re right that there are some issues that don’t leave a lot of room for compromise. And I hear you about the difference between policies and ideologies. I think, going back to the OP, that so much of the reason why people “dig in” and refuse to budge on their positions is the absolute certainty about the righteousness of their position. That’s really a bar to progress on both sides, as I mentioned in my original comment. I also really do think, and I’ve said this elsewhere, that as difficult as it may be, it’s worth trying to understand how someone on “the other side” really thinks. I found Donald Trump and many of his most ardent supporters to be most objectionable, but I still tried to understand them because I thought it was a valuable exercise. Now even that only goes so far. I don’t think understanding virulent white supremacists is terribly helpful, but I do think that trying to understand how and why someone on the other side of the aisle approaches an issue the way that they do at least allows me to understand how they think and maybe begin to have a conversation. Granted, that’s not modeled terribly well or often in our current political climate, but I still think it’s a worthwhile thing to do.
Thank you, Dot!
Brother Sky, great thoughts. I appreciate your point about the need to understand what the other side is thinking. Even with something as unthinkable as white supremacy, it might be helpful to listen to understand the fears and insecurities that bring people to such horrific views. It is hard to change dynamics that we don’t understand.
I think the direction the Church will take in the future is largely, perhaps entirely, dependent on who sits at the top of the hierarchy. We’ve certainly seen recently how the views and goals of the guy at the top quickly become part of the institutional views and goals, even with minor things (we’re not “Mormon” anymore). Of course, all the potential successors are quite conservative, so in a different sense it doesn’t quite matter who succeeds. The Church’s course in the future will either be very conservative or very very conservative. Take your pick.
So meaningful change will not come from the top. What might induce change despite resistance from the top would be, say, if other schools refused to play sports with BYU because of the LDS gay policy. Or if members of the Church started losing jobs because of the LDS gay policy. So i guess the modified stance would be: The Church will remain as conservative as it can be, for as long as it can be, until external actors start imposing significant hardship on BYU or the Church or the membership. Then change will happen.
Whether the upper leadership will acknowledge it or not, Church culture does change over time as the tides of secular/world culture change, for better or for worse, inexorably and unstoppably. For example, when we were having children (married in the 1980s), the Church encouraged us to have “as many children as we could take care of,” and we kind of floated on that tide and had 8 children (without giving it as much thought as we should of, but feeling like we were doing what we were supposed to do). Many of our contemporaries in the church (in the 1970s, 1980s, etc.) had large families of six or more children (my best three LDS friends growing up have 7, 6 and 5 children, respectively). But outside of the Church, over time, people began having less children, more women desired to explore and develop their talents, work in their chosen fields, have satisfying careers, and decided to have less children. The Church’s official position on this did not seem to ever formally change, but now it seems like “4 children is the new 8” within the Church, and women in the Church work and move forward with education and careers, and nothing negative is said about this (thank goodness) by upper leadership. Elder Renlund’s wife has one child and was the managing partner of a large SLC law firm. President Nelson is married to a highly-accomplished, highly-educated woman, and Sister Eubanks and Sister Dew (just to name a few) are highly-respected by both leaders and members of the Church. These women are held up as exemplary (as they should). Even among my own four daughters (all believing LDS), all either have or will soon have graduate degrees, all work, and the most children any of them have or will have is four. So culture does just change, and although I guess you can try to slow it down “from the pulpit,” you will lose in the end if you fight against things that are just . . . progress. I believe the Church will grow steadily more progressive, year after year. It evolves, as it should. The Restoration is ongoing. I might be a bit ahead of the Church in my own progressive Gospel views, but I feel confident (quietly) that the Church is heading in a progressive direction, slowly but surely.
Bro Sky, Once you look at what the other side believes, and can see that they have bought into a lie. Vote republican to stop abortion, or stop the steal, gay marriage is an attack on straight marriage or even moral values, or that universal healthcare is marxism, what can you do about it?
Living in a country which is less religious, I am not convinced on the religious motivation of hippies. For JCS I don’t see a direct correlation between morality and religion, in fact the relationship may be inverse. Mostly because religion, including ours, is influenced by Republican discrimination, and that is not moral.
I have been impressed by Oaks recently, his changing views seem to be deeper than RMN changing names etc.
I wonder if the exing of the mormon therapist, lead to BYU’s associated department were no longer accredited or their graduates not employable, might help the church leadership realise they are wrong. I think the biden government will make discrimination against, races, gays, and women, or anyone else unacceptable, much more quickly too.
I am hoping there might be a perfect storm that will bring the church leadership around.
As someone in who’s looking at what’s happening within the church and its culture from Canada, I feel the need to emphasize that there are also incentives and disincentives outside the US that are important to understanding all of this.
The 1978 changes made by the church to policies re: the ordinances of salvation, priesthood, and race came about partly because of how difficult the former policies made it for the church to expand elsewhere, Brazil being just one of many, many examples.
Here in Canada, many of the issues discussed in this post are (thankfully) a little more settled. Even the Conservative Party of Canada has, as an institution, largely come out in favor of policies protecting and affirming LGBT2SQ+ rights, Women’s rights (to abortion at least), and ethnic minority rights. While there does indeed exist a vocal segment within the party and country that problematizes the soft level of consensus on these matters, most would admit that these proponents have largely lost these particular cultural ‘wars’. Discrimination still systemically exists and there remains still much in need of redress but the change remains pretty remarkable.
The church and social conservatives in Canada are experience a waning of influence here, limited to those few areas where they constitute at least a sizable minority or (more rarely) majority. If membership is growing, it isn’t doing so by much.
I suspect that this may be the case in many European countries as well, though certainly not all as some have actually gone the other way.
As mentioned, there are also countries where the current administration and culture has even become more hostile to the movements that support these same kinds of rights.
So the church and its meta-culture are therefore in a bit of a bind.
If they double down and become more hostile to secularism and these movements then their influence and membership in countries like my own will likely further decline.
If they do the opposite, they may find it more difficult to increase its membership and standing elsewhere.
I’d be also curious to see how internet use and availability fits into this. My gut tells me that the church would struggle more a populations’ access and use of the internet increases but I don’t know for sure.
While I hope that I’m wrong and that the church and its membership will continue to become more socially tolerant and heterodox, I think that there could be a lot of fracturing in its future due to variation in socio-political context of its membership.
Frankly, I don’t think Oak’s words will change anybody’s views. People pick and choose what they want to hear. (Oak’s talk on agency some years ago was one of my favorites—where he basically made the point that laws/rules do not limit our agency. Agency is a condition of life on earth. But I still see the arguments that taxes take away our agency—“forcing” us to be charitable.
I don’t see much, if any, changes moving forward. But we should be changing. Societies have evolved from hideous practices such as slavery. As we learn more, we ought to change the things we do and/or how we do things.
I do think there is value in people having different views/ideas. The tugs and pulls between extreme ends should keep us more centered.
But, sadly, modern technology has opened the way to become better informed or to become more misinformed. That is a huge challenge moving forward.
The extreme rigidity found within the church—trying to fit everybody into the same cookie-cutter mold—is causing more to leave. How about we lead with love—meet people where they are. Enlarge the tent.
“It is beyond dispute that the number of adult children who spend their days doing nothing more than playing video games in their parents’ basements is at epidemic levels.”
The fact is:
More young people are going to college than in previous generations. And, many of those attending college are also working. Tuition rates have risen faster than wage rates. Millennials have had to not just endure this pandemic but also the Great Recession.
It is reported here that Pres Biden’s speech to congress has recieved approval as presidential, caring, inspiring, and bold, from between 80 and 90% and those proud to have a female vice pres in the 70s. If those figures were right that could lead to huge cultural change.
Although the culture wars may swing back and forth, when they swing toward progressive they go a little furthur, and when they swing back, they don’t go all the way. If it were not so conservatives would still be defending slavery, domestic violence, and racism.
I am hoping that Biden/Harris change America to be more like the first world, and that after 3 terms it can not be changed back. In the first world, universal healthcare, abortion on demand, gay marriage, equality for women, are not political, they are agreed by all sides of politics, though funding is more generous from the left than the right.
If this changes the church will have to change too, hopefully in the next 10 years
Geoff-Aus: why do you always feel the need to inject your politics into these discussions? We know you hate Trump (so do I by the way). But it’s not really what we were talking about.
I grew up in California in the 1980s and 90s, where as Church members we perceived ourselves as being on the front lines of the culture wars, standing atop the bulwark as shining beacons of righteousness, guarding against the creeping immorality we saw all around. When Prop 8 came along, many members felt the time had come to finally mobilize that pent-up righteous anger and put it to work at the ballot box. Most folks I know who supported the proposition were not hateful people, but were just doing what they thought the Church expected them to do. The initiative’s passing turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory. Many of us came to realize that the Church was actually 20-30 years behind the curve in social justice issues, and always had been. It will likely continue to be so. In the current culture wars, the Church is fighting for issues that have been settled long ago, while more pressing issues of society are being ignored. I’m especially confused by the fact that the Church is embarking on an expensive and largely redundant temple building spree during a time when there are many global and local crises they could shift those resources to.
I couldn’t disagree more with you, Angela C, about the stakes here. You’ve said a lot about culture, but you seem to have forgotten that this is a *war*! There really is good and evil (with a bunch of complexity between).
So let me say something with blinding moral certainty: Trump and Trumpism are evil. They’re not complex or borderline. They are completely out of bounds. They’re evil like Hitler, like Stalin, like slavery. We progressives are at war with Trumpism, our cause is just, and I, for one, intend to win!
Oaks’ talk gets it exactly backward: There should be candidates – there are candidates! – that no believing latter-day saint ought to vote for. And they *should* be shamed, at church as elsewhere, if they do. Trump is one, and happily for now, there aren’t many others (maybe no others in the US). Of course, the Church can’t say that, because it’s a corporation hobbled by tax law. But what do you think the ~70% of Americans Mormon who heard Oaks’ talk – and who also voted for Trump TWICE – took away from it? That they should be more nuanced!? C’mon. I’m neither Jesus nor a botanist, but even I can tell the difference between an olive branch and a fig leaf.
TL;DR: I hated 100% of the talk.
Billy Possum: A few things. First, I am completely in the same camp you are that Trump is a moral crisis for the country. He incited an insurrection FFS! So yes, I will do all in my meager power to defeat him, and I agree that any Church member who voted for him twice should be ashamed. In the wake of the Oaks talk, a knee jerk conservative guy on Twitter didn’t even let the spittle dry on Oaks’ microphone before he immediately chastised all liberal Saints for judging the Trump voters. Saints preserve us from the aggrieved white male who is the norm for the Church. So, yes, I agree with you on that front.
But going down the rabbit hole a minute with you, I have a few extra thoughts to consider. Some of the people I suspect voted for Trump, even twice, (non-LDS mostly) are what I would call “low information” voters. I am pretty sure some of them are just voting the way their family or their spouse is spinning things. Some of them are not informed. Some aren’t that smart and believe conspiracy theories and lies from the right. Some of them would literally burn down the country for one issue, even though I see them as clearly in the wrong on that one issue. I don’t think every Trump voter is equally culpable and/or complicit. I also have a question in my mind about which is more evil: Trump (for being a narcissist and being willing to use his voting bases’ worst instincts to win) or his voting base, who are willing to put an authoritarian wannabe dictator in charge for causes that are also morally dubious like anti-choice legislation, anti-science, racist views, and anti-public education? Maybe that doesn’t matter which is more evil, but it probably matters on an individual level, and that’s the only way I know people is as individuals. Not all Germans, even those who fought with the Nazis, were as evil as Hitler.
As to the culture wars, though, these issues exist apart from Trump and continue past Trump, even if they have been whipped into a frenzy by him. I thought it was helpful that the historians pointed out that these are religious debates that will never end and have always existed, and that while one side likes to present itself as “religious” in our current culture wars, both sides are using the framework of Christianity (primarily) to create a vision for society. Both are reading the Bible completely differently, and the conservative claiming of themselves as religious against a godless secular society is a bad faith argument.
“Evil” is such a harsh word, especially in regard to fellow voters in our great republic.
@Ji it seems like the Church wants to attack moral relativism when it goes against its morals, but then moral relativism is apparently fine when it comes to certain things like endorsing a hateful, bullying, racist, misogynist, homophobic but Republican demagogues.
I get what you’re saying but if we believe evil exists – and the Church certainly does – some line has to be drawn somewhere. Maybe some would draw it somewhere else than Billy Possum but I definitely get where he’s coming from.
@Angela agree, but I think the people who put Trump flags up and spread his misinformation are more than just uninformed voters. That was outright support and advocacy and it was all over my neighborhood.
JI, Yes and I would think baby killer, marxist, and hate are also harsh words, but some are true and some are lies. That seem to be what America could heal from if it will allow its self to.
As for Oaks, I thought there were good points in his October, and again April talks, but after so many years of republican culture, he is going to have to be more blunt. Hopefully trump is history, but there is still the problem that so many members could not see a problem voting for his lies.
Elisa: Agreed. I would just distinguish between the Trumpers who spread misinformation (believe me, my neighborhood is full of them also–it is gross), the 70% of Republicans who believe the lies, and the 30% of Trump-voters who voted for him *twice* yet still accepted the election results as valid. There are some who voted for him, even twice, who still see the insurrectionists as law-breakers who should be brought to account, not people fighting in the “glorious cause.” There are also Republicans who believe George Floyd was murdered, and there are others who don’t.
As to Ji’s comment that “evil” is such a harsh word.
Yes, it is harsh. And we need to be very careful attaching that label to others. (See the parable of the Publican and the Sinner in Luke Chapter 18.)
Having acknowledged this, I would like to toss out into this discussion the Confucian concept of “Rectification of Names.” Boiled down to its essence, it means that one must act as a king to be worthy to receive the title of King. One must act like a father to be worthy of the title of Father. And so on.
By this ethical concept, Trump was not worthy of the title President, because he did not act as a President should. And his diehard supporters are not worthy of the title of patriot, because they are committing the evil of harming the character of our Republic.
I have a letter in my possession written to my father by a German friend of his in late 1933 (my father was born in 1907, and yes, I am an old man), almost a year after Hitler took power in Germany. The German friend was a cultured and intelligent man, a Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Tübingen, Germany‘s equivalent of Oxford and Harvard. The letter is filled with hate-filled rants about how everything in Germany was the fault of the Jews and what good things Hitler was doing.
The letter was and is evil, and distilled in essence an approach to life that killed 6 million Jews, left Europe in ruins, and caused the deaths of 60 million Jews.
Having lived in Germany for the first 18 years of my life, I have a lifelong love for the people and culture of Germany. It is possible to love as Christ would have us love, and still label what the German people did as evil. Make no mistake about it, very few Germans felt badly for the evils of Nazism. They felt badly that they lost the war and had their country ruined.
The two things that Biden has done as President that I most appreciate are that he had the guts to label Putin as a killer, and characterize the slaughter of the Armenians as a genocide. He had the decency to state the truth.
Just as bullies cannot bear it when someone stands up to them, The truly evil cannot bear to have their actions labeled as such.
While no one and no one side are free from wrong, in the culture wars, right and wrong are NOT evenly divided. There are definite angels and definite devils in the culture wars.
While acknowledging the potential for evil in all of us, including myself, I assert that it is important to the survival of our Republic to declare that what Trump did to the collective character of the US was evil, beyond questions of disagreeing or disagreeing with a particular policy.
So it is vital that we are willing to label evil as such, while retaining a lively sense of our own capacity for doing wrong things.
I have said nothing regarding Mr. Trump or Nazis.
“Evil” is a harsh word to use in regard to fellow voters in our great republic. Given a choice between (1) hating fellow citizens and fellow church members who voted differently and (2) treating them charitably, I recommend the latter. Our civil society and our church society will be better for it.
That said, I am glad Mr. Trump is no longer president. I wish he would disappear into oblivion and irrelevance.
I apologize if you thought I was linking your comments to Trump or Nazis. That was certainly not my intent. I have always enjoyed your comments and usually agree with what you write. In fact, I agreed with your caution that labeling Someone or something as evil IS indeed harsh and must be approached with great caution, and with a lively awareness of our own propensity toward wrong-doing.
My point, which I seem to have not conveyed very well, is that there are times that evil must be confronted and labeled as such, for civilization to survive. In my opinion, Nazism in an earlier era. and Trumpism in our present day, are examples. That in no way accuses you, or even insinuates, that I equate your accurate observation that labeling someone or something as evil is harsh, with endorsing evil. To repeat, I believe that your observation is accurate.
The more we tend to denounce something or someone as evil, the more we become intolerant and cause damage. But if we fail to confront evil, then we degrade what makes us human.
An extremely difficult balancing act.
Christ told us to resist not evil, but He also fearlessly denounced the Pharisees, and rebuked Satan, during His temptation in the wilderness. He also harshly rebuked a well-meaning Peter with the phrase, “Get Thee behind me, Satan!” Christ’s point, I think, was that Peter’s concern for Him would, if not restrained, have interfered with His atonement. Christ also freely forgave the adulteress caught in the act—a model for us all.