Five things you should know about Mormon politics

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Jesus Christ - Christus Statue by midiman via Flickr creative commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/midiman/90232350/

midiman via Flickr creative commons

Jesus Christ - Christus Statue by midiman via Flickr creative commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/midiman/90232350/

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) remains enigmatic to most Americans. Even less is known about Mormon politics.

To be fair, not many who watch religion and politics closely know a lot of about Mormons in politics.

But hopefully that will change. Political scientists David Campbell (Notre Dame), John Green (Akron), and Quin Monson (BYU) have a new book on Mormons in American politics. Seeking the Promised Land is comprehensive look at Mormon politics that gives us a picture of how the typical LDS member thinks about politics.

Here are my five takeaways from this book, five ways that Mormons are a “peculiar people” in American politics.

1. Mormons were once public enemy #1 of Republicans

When the Republican Party drafted its first party platform in 1856, it included a resolution calling on Congress “to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism — Polygamy, and Slavery.” That’s right. Slavery wasn’t the only great evil to be eradicated. So too was polygamy, which was practiced by Mormons at the time.

During the Republican dominance of national politics after the Civil War, Mormons were virtually kept out of national politics. It was only after the LDS changed its position on polygamy that Utah was granted statehood. The Utah Constitution included a clause outlawing the practice: “polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited.”

Mormons’ partisanship after statehood could be described as bipartisan. It was not until the 1970s that Mormons moved solidly into the Republican camp.

2. Today, Mormons are the most Republican of any faith

Forget evangelicals — when it comes to religion & politics, no religious group is more solidly Republican than Mormons.

In 1960s, only about a third of Mormons identified themselves as Republican. Recent polls have the percentage around sixty percent. A 2014 survey by Pew has the figure at 70 percent. And many of those who don’t see themselves as being Republican still vote for the GOP on Election Day. For example, in recent elections Mormons in Utah have voted Republican 30 points higher than the national average. In 2012, nearly 90 percent of Mormon voters in Utah voted for Mitt Romney.

3. Mormons believe the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired

A lot of Americans think of America as being blessed by God. Many even see America as having a special role in the world. For Mormons, however, the United States is literally a nation designated by God as the place where his church would be restored. The United States of America is part of God’s plan.

This plan included the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. In Doctrine and Covenants (part of the LDS cannon), God says,

And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.

The Constitution is not seen by Mormons as a mere human document. It is divinely inspired. It’s not scripture; it’s an imperfect document whose principles or fundamentals are from God. This high view of the Constitution is widely accepted among Mormons. In a poll of Mormons in 2012, 90 percent agreed that “U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are divinely inspired,” with most holding this view strongly.

4. Mormons are politically conservative, with a twist

If you gave the typical Mormon a quiz on being a conservative, he or she would ace it. Socially conservative mixed with the small government views of the Mountain West, most Mormons hold conservative positions on the major issues of the day.

That said, there are some nuances. On abortion, Mormons support the view of the LDS Church, which permits abortion in the case of rape or the life of the mother. Mormons are more supportive of allowing abortion in these cases than the average American (that’s right: in these cases, Mormons are the most pro-choice). But on abortion in general, Mormons are among the most pro-life, opposing abortion because the mother is in poverty or has other private reasons for making her decision.

Mormons are also more in favor of immigration, particularly compared to the average Republican. One reason is the exposure to other cultures. Mormons are more likely to see immigration as a good thing if they’ve gone on a mission, particularly a foreign mission.

5. Mormons aren’t always political, but when they are, they can be successful

Like other faiths, the LDS is a religious organization first, not a political one. As a religious group, Mormons are rarely mobilized into politics, but when they are often successful. Few Mormons report hearing about politics in their wards (local congregations). Polls show that it is rare for a Mormons to have politics mentioned in a sacramental meeting (Sunday service) or teaching.

But on rare occasion, such as the fight over California’s Proposition 8 campaign, Mormons can be politicized. Campbell and his colleagues describe Mormons as being like dry kindling. They aren’t always on fire (politically) but they have all that’s needed to burst into flame. They are highly organized, politically homogenous, and hold strong beliefs. When the church takes a clear stand on an issue, Mormons are able to organize politically and be successful.

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  • “For Mormons, however, the United States is literally a nation designated by God as the place where his church would be restored.”

    The problem here is that the church was never lost. What does the Holy Spirit tell us in Ephesians 3:21? “…to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

    The church didn’t have to be restored. The Gospel didn’t have to be restored. Again, what does Jesus tell us in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

    Always check what you hear and are taught, with Scripture, to ensure you are being taught the truth.

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/2015/03/progressive-revelation-or-making-god-of.html

  • Kw

    WOW Downtown Dave you cracked the code. A church that has sent out 60K missionaries each year has never found such amazing reasoning and logic well done. And what an excellent choice of location for posting such a comment–this goes exactly in line with the discussion the article focused on.

    TIP: Spend more time understanding the bible instead of bashing with it. Any reasonably well read Christian knows that most of the new testament epistles/letters were mostly about trying to keep the saints in line with the doctrine and from being led away. Two scriptures is hardly material against 13 letters from the apostles.

    Stop bashing and teach about the savior of mankind.

  • Kingsfold
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  • Debbie Snowcroft

    From the article: “Polls show that it is rare for a Mormons to have politics mentioned in a sacramental meeting (Sunday service) or teaching.”

    That’s an example of a Mormon tautology. Mormons are taught that their church doesn’t get involved in politics, only “moral” issues. So, when the church gets involved it is (from their perspective) never political.

    Prop 8? Not political; “moral.” Abortion? Not political; “moral.” Equal Rights Amendment? Not political; “moral.” Gay marriage? Not political; “moral.”

    In the upside down world of Mormonism, any political issue can be instantly changed into a non-political “moral” issue simply by having the church’s leaders talk about it. So of *course* Mormons will tell pollsters they don’t hear about political issues in their meetings. In Mormonism they don’t talk about political issues, only “moral” issues —- by definition.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Silly. You cite a total of four examples, of which two (“Prop 8” and “gay marriage”) are synonymous. So you’re really down to three, exactly ALL of which have to do with marriage and family.

    Are you really so dense as to think those three examples encompass the entire spectrum of political issues? Really? I agree that abortion is a long-lived issue. The Church’s view happens to coincide with a very, very large number of Americans of all faiths and even in some cases of no particular faith. Whether or when babies should be killed in the womb really is a moral issue, Debbie.

    What you’re really saying is you hate the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and you’re willing to bash it whether your comments make sense or not. But we already knew that.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Good comment. The guy is a well-known troll and has been banned from at least two sites.

  • Debbie Snowcroft

    Thanks for illustrating the points I was making.

  • Don McGuinness

    The first scripture from Ephesians is a prayer or a wish, not a prophecy. The second verse from Matthew concerning the word of God. Not the church itself or the authority of the priesthood or men standing by and preserving what was established by Christ. The organization established by Christ that is reflected in the scriptures, IE. Apostles, Prophets, etc. Does not exist outside the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. Paul warned of the departing from the faith and men drawing disciples unto themselves. Look around at the thousands of groups who have been drawn away as disciples of other men. Each week thousands upon thousands of people go and listen to the ideas of one man who leads His congregation as to what He says the scriptures mean according to him. And each is different. The true body of Christ will be of one mind and one faith not thousands. And the way is narrow not broad. Thousands of ways is a broad way. It is dangerous to project your own ideas upon the word of God.

  • Don McGuinness

    Every choice made in life is a moral issue. Many are also political issues. But ALL are moral issues. The Mormon church NEVER tells the congregation or any of its members to vote any particular way in a political election or vote. Unlike many other churches.

  • hoffbegone

    I thought your point was “any political issue can be instantly changed into a non-political “moral” issue simply by having the church’s leaders talk about it”

    So how did trytoseeitmyway illustrate your point?

    I’ll ask the same question:
    :
    Are you really so dense as to think those three examples encompass the entire spectrum of political issues?

  • Ken Dahl

    Never? Prop 8 in CA? Uh, think again.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Proposition 8, same sex marriage, and the Equal Rights Amendment are all really the same moral issue: what is the position that government takes on sexual morality and marriage? All of the real issues about equal legal rights for women and men are already encompassed by the 14th amendment and the requirement of equality under the law. What the ERA would have done would be to erase the ability to acknowledge gender as having any legal significance in the law, which only serves the LGBT agenda.

    Another moral issue the LDS Church has spoken out on is supporting equality in housing and employment for gays and lesbians.

    One of the other moral issues in public policy that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taken a position on is immigration, specifically having a more humanitarian law that does not criminalize people who come to America to work but without legal authorization.

    The Church leadership does not coerce its members to agree with these positions.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The LDS Church does not let political parties or candidates use its membership lists to make phone calls or mail advertising to its members. It does not let anyone do political campaigning in its buildings. It does not allow display of partisan campaign ads on its property. It specifically affirms at each election that members in good standing belong to and support all sides in election contests.

    I was a college political intern during the 1972 campaign. That year, Utah voted for Nixon but also reelected a Democrat governor to an unprecedented third term. It had one Democrat senator and one Republican senator in Congress. However, that year the left wing of the Democratic Party took over control of the national party and began to take extreme left wing positions on the military and national defense, on abortion, and other issues. The many conservative people in labor unions and elsewhere who had supported the Democrats found themselves alienated by the new leaders.

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  • Kw: Downtown Dave is only expressing his POV or beliefs, which he’s entitled to. He doesn’t appear to be bashing anyone. I am a Republican and I am pleased to say that I’m a Mormon.

  • Emmef Jota

    The Mormon Church as a church never told anyone how to vote on Prop 8. The members knew how to vote without being told because they have been taught correct principles. The Mormon Prophet leader, Joseph Smith, said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” That’s how it is.

    I thought this was a pretty fair article, btw. With a couple of tweaks, it would be perfect, though incomplete. But that’s expected.

  • I have to laugh a bit. During the 1988 election cycle, I ran for State Treasurer in Vermont. One day I happened to go by the LDS Church in Montpelier where one of my campaign flyers was prominently posted on bulletin board. I quickly went to find the Stake President to ask him about who had posted that flyer. He admitted he had done so. Well, he was a bit political. His wife was an official in State Government. Anyway, I let him know that I didn’t think the Church (in SL) would like it one bit if they were aware about the poster. So it came down. But everyone in the Church in Vermont knew about my candidacy anyway.