God Isn’t Registered to Any Party

A lady asks a gentleman what party he belongs to. He replies “My grandfather was a Republican, my father was a Republican, and I’m a Republican.” The lady is appalled. “What if your grandfather had been a horse-thief?”

The gentleman replies, “Well, then, I suppose I’d be a Democrat.”

-Told to me by my father when I was a kid. To date, it’s my favorite joke about Democrats… or perhaps it’s about Republicans.

It’s taken me a long time to realize this. I’m pretty embarrassed.

Latter-day Saint Democrats aren’t evil.

No, wait! Hear me out, LDS Republicans! Don’t go!

We’ve been told that you can be a righteous, worthy member of the Church and be a Democrat. Elder Marlin K. Jensen was sent by the First Presidency to address the issue in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune all the way back in 1998. (See http://bit.ly/ldsdemocrat – if you want to read the article in the Tribune archives, you’ll need to pay and subscribe, but you can find it at http://bit.ly/cdGlwc.) Among other shockers, we get the following:

“One of the things that prompted this discussion in the first place was the regret that’s felt about the decline of the Democratic Party [in Utah] and the notion that may prevail in some areas that you can’t be a good Mormon and a good Democrat at the same time,” Jensen said.

“There have been some awfully good men and women who have been both and are both today. So I think it would be a very healthy thing for the church — particularly the Utah church — if that notion could be obliterated.”

Any time I heard the First Presidency say something like “We don’t endorse any political party or candidate,” I kind of assumed they were winking. My thoughts were something like, “Sure, they have to say that – otherwise the Church would lose its tax-exempt status. But we all know what they really mean.”

I’m pretty sure what they really meant was what they actually said. I was reading between the lines because I didn’t like what the lines were saying. My imagined interpretation was far more palatable.

Back in 1998, they also made it clear that what matters is the candidate. They didn’t exactly say “party, schmarty,” but they emphasized the person, not their party:

…members are counseled to study the candidates carefully and vote for those individuals they believe will act with integrity and in ways conducive to good communities and good government.
“News of the Church,” Ensign, Apr. 1998, p.77

But somehow that just never stuck. All I could think was, “Sure, Latter-day Saints can be Democrats. We’re not all on the same spiritual level; they’ll come around as they mature.”

Yeah. Really. I thought that.

Well, I’ve matured a bit. I’m not a registered anything anymore, but I can at least imagine registering for a different party now. In Jensen’s interview, he also said,

“Everyone who is a good Latter-day Saint is going to have to pick and choose a little bit regardless of the party that they’re in and that may be required a lot more in the future than it has been in the past. But I think there’s room for that and the gospel leaves us lots of latitude.”

I’m glad to have finally learned this lesson, albeit a dozen years after it was taught.

P.S. Can I add something about Elder Marlin K. Jensen? I was roommates with his son Ryan back in 1998, and was invited to Ryan’s reception when he got married. Elder Jensen spoke at the dinner. It was like no other wedding reception I’d ever attended — or have attended since. I felt the Spirit when Elder Jensen spoke. I remember thinking, “I want my wedding to be like this. This has been holy.”

As we left the building (the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, if I recall correctly), we passed another reception in progress. There was music, and dancing, and a typical wedding celebration. People inside were happy. But it paled in comparison to what I felt. I’d felt a peaceful happiness that ran much deeper than I was accustomed to.

I have zero recollection of what Elder Jensen said as he presided over his son’s reception, but I remember what I saw. He was incredibly humble and happy. He exemplified the kind of man I wanted to be. I’m grateful I had the chance to see an example like him away from the pulpit.

He’s a Democrat. I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time. I might’ve missed the whole thing.

Signs of the Election Times

[catch-phrase] –noun 1. a phrase that attracts or is meant to attract attention.

[prop-uh-gan-duh] -noun 1. information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

It’s election time again, which means a surfeit of signs that say nothing but a name, an elected office, and maybe a catchy slogan. That’s democracy in action: make your name a brand, and hope folks buy solely because of brand-name recognition.

No wait, that’s capitalism.

Oh, no, wait. I was right the first time. Democracy.

It bothers me no end. In the information age, there’s no excuse for not pointing people to a source of more information. Instead of saying “DONALD DUCK FOR MAYOR,” or maybe “Donald’s a Do-er!”, the sign should give an address to a website, like “whydonaldduck.com” and a call to action.

I'm proud of the patriotic little hat

So why don’t politicians do this? Don’t they want an informed electorate?

Um, perhaps not.

Of the people who go to a site to learn more about a candidate, how many are going to agree with every stance the candidate has? Such a site could cost a politician votes. Maybe folks would’ve voted for them because their party affiliations match, but now they’re dissuaded by something as awful as issues.

So, instead of trying to educate, most politicians content themselves with signs. Why? Maybe because it works. People tend to vote with the herd — if we see more signs for Donald than for Daffy, we trust our neighbors’ opinions and go with the flow. Don’t we? Some of us, at any rate?

I think that’s part of why we form political parties. Candidate A is my guy! No matter that his integrity is questionable, or that his views don’t quite align with what I thought this party stood for… he’s MY guy! Root, root, root for the home team! Us vs. Them!

Sports fanaticism is a lot like political fanaticism. People stick to their party rather than considering individual candidates. Last night, Elder Uchtdorf said:

I’ve always loved participating in and attending sporting events, but I confess there are times when the lack of civility in sports is embarrassing. How is it that normally kind and compassionate human beings can be so intolerant and filled with hatred toward an opposing team and its fans. I have watched sports fans villify and demonize their rivals. They look for any flaw and magnify it. They justify their hatred with broad generalizations and apply them to everyone associated with the other team. When ill-fortune afflicts their rival, they rejoice.

My dear brethren, unfortunately, we see today, too often, the same kind of attitude and behavior spill over into the public discourse of politics, ethnicity, and religion.

-October 2, 2010 Priesthood Session of General Conference

Couldn’t have said it better. Which is why I quoted it.

If more educating signage isn’t available, should you not show your support? Nah, showing your support is fine. If you truly want your candidate to win, you’ll want votes from the herd, too. Why let the opposing candidate nab the lots cast by the herd-voters?

However! Wouldn’t you like to educate folks as well? Wouldn’t you like to raise some herd-voters, some party-line voters, up to the level of educated, informed electors?

I say, if you’re going to do a sign, do a blog post as well. Not web-savvy? Don’t have a blog? Fine, go create a one-post blog at blogger.com. You could add a link to your post to that sign in your front yard.

(Oh, need a nice, short link folks can remember? Go to bit.ly, where you can plug in the link for your post, and create a more succinct link. They let you customize your link, too. Like this post, for example. Bit.ly assigned me the link bit.ly/d5ZoOV, but I created a customized link of bit.ly/electionsigns. The latter is just short enough folks might remember it. Took me 10 seconds.)

In all things, I think we should avoid mob mentality. And we should remember that God isn’t registered to either political party.