Amid all the misconceptions about latter-day saints and our beliefs, there is one thing for which we appear to be fairly well known. Mormons don’t use tobacco and we don’t drink alcohol, coffee, or tea. We call this simple code of health, the “Word of Wisdom.” Latter-day saints don’t believe that someone will “go to hell” for drinking coffee or tea. Instead, the Word of Wisdom is a positive commandment loaded with promises. The Lord promises those who obey this principle will enjoy blessings of health, increased spiritual vitality, and protection.
In the starkly polarized political environment of today, it strikes me as somewhat ironic that the antagonists have characterized themselves as the Tea Party and more recently, the Coffee Party. In this article, I hope to point out that partaking of the political “tea or coffee” of these parties is unhelpful to our cause of building up the kingdom of God.
The Tea Party appears to be a spontaneous grassroots movement. Individuals who have never been politically active in their lives are seeing what they perceive an existential threat to the country. Most of these individuals are disgruntled Republicans, but it also includes many independents and even some liberals. Their primary concern is the growth of government and the threat it poses to preserving liberty and the impending economic implosion if the spending doesn’t stop.
Progressive liberals were dismissive at first of the Tea Partiers, referring to them in vulgar terms and characterizing them as “Astroturf.” By this, they meant that the Tea Partiers were not a genuine grassroots movement, assuming that the political right uses the same tactics as does the left.
It is common for progressives to bus-in loud, angry crowds of paid SEIU and ACORN employees and activist to protests. These are no more than “rent-a-mobs.” If you are observant, you’ll see familiar faces in these crowds that appear all over the country. Some of these people are professional rabble-rousers. Nancy Pelosi and her companions assume that the right does the same thing. They have a genuinely hard time comprehending that average people are concerned enough with the state of the country and the unresponsiveness of its leaders to mobilize to this degree without some fidiciary incentive.
An article in the American Thinker points out how progressive foundations, funded by billionaires like George Soros or Ted Turner are instrumental in the propagation of liberal “Astroturf.” Seeing the need to negate the attention gained by the Tea Party movement, they decided to fabricate one of their own: the Coffee Party.
In the American Thinker article, Thomas Lifson described the Coffee Party’s liberal links and the favorable treatment it is getting in the mainstream media. This is the “Astroturf” that the left is so fond of using. Their agenda includes items like, “Organize Your Workplace! Bring a union to progressive workplace,” “Beck Advertiser Pull Out Campaign,” and “How to be a Media Star: Presence and Authenticity Media Training.” That last one really gets me. If you’re truly “authentic,” do you need media training to come off that way?
The two groups are diametrically opposed to one another. There is no middle ground. This is scary territory, because there’s no room left for discussion. They’re too busy shouting talking points to listen. It becomes a contest of slogans, not ideas. That’s where, in most revolutions, the shooting begins. That’s a place that we should not have any desire to go.
I am moderately alarmed at some of the rhetoric I’ve seen from conservative forums. Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann has advocated civil disobedience if Congress attempts to pass the health care bill without a normal vote procedure. Some states are passing 10th Amendment “sovereignty” resolutions, laying the groundwork to oppose further mandates from Washington. There are individuals who are promoting secession and salivating over the possibility of some violent conflict with government. Admittedly, this is a fringe element, but it’s now a fringe element with a growing, sympathetic audience. Just hang out on Free Republic for a couple of days and see how many of their regulars are hoping for the “second American Revolution” to begin.
On the left, the threat of violence has always been implied by its traditional linkage to such groups as the Black Panthers, Act Up, and the Earth Liberation Front. Communist sympathizers and overt radicals like Van Jones and Anita Dunn espouse a philosophy or revere the communist founders of movements that openly anticipate violent revolution as part of the “fundamental transformation” of a society. Perhaps no more haunting images come to mind than the two Black Panthers, one of them with a nightstick in hand, standing out in front of a polling place in Philadelphia on election day and the SEIU “beat-down” of an African American conservative who was handing out “Don’t tread on me” flags at a town hall last November.
It became readily apparent during the 2000 presidential election how fragile our system actually is. All that is needed to topple it is one candidate who will not concede. The partisanship and division that results from an election cycle is harmful. If one side or the other refuses to concede, the entire system stops working. We came really close to that in 2000. That’s why the heavyweights like Warren Christopher and James Baker emerged from the sidelines to hammer out the legal arguments. Our republic is a truly fragile thing. The transitions of power depend on both sides willing to abide by law. If one side is radicalized enough to disregard law, especially when the popular vote is on their side, things could get ugly very fast.
More than anything else that has alarmed me; however, it is the latter-day saints who have bought into the partisanship to the point that they are willing to disregard the united voice of the First Presidency of the Church. I’ve encountered members of the Church who plan to practice civil disobedience by not participating in the census. I’ve seen discussions in which members have conferred over how to oppose the government if health care passes. They dismiss the plain teachings of Doctrine and Covenants Section 134, which tells us that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming a free people in a constitutional system.
I’ve spoken with members who feel that the prophets who guide us are wrong on things like gay marriage and other favorite liberal issues. They feel we’re misguided in holding to scriptural standards that are confirmed by modern day revelation. This devotion to partisan causes is given precedence above their devotion to the kingdom of God and doing the Lord’s work. Indeed, the political zealots of the right and the left are prone to link their religious ideology with their political ideology. Thus, if you’re not onboard with their politics, you’re opposing what they consider to be God’s work. This is divisive to the Church.
Admittedly, this is a small minority of the members of the Church, but they are outspoken and determined. Most latter-day saints are busy with careers, family, church callings, doing their home teaching teaching, or devoting some spare time to serving others. We don’t have the time or inclination to foment rebellion.
As we study the life of Jesus, we find that he was apolitical. His kingdom was not of this world, as he told Pilate. He posed no threat to the Roman Empire. Likewise, as his followers, we are not revolutionaries. Latter-day saints who in a free, representative government, have a duty to elect men and women of good character, but we can avoid undue partisanship. Character is more important that political ideology. It is abundantly apparent that the political right and left are both filled with self-aggrandizing opportunists who lack any moral fiber whatsoever. No one side has cornered the market on honesty and integrity.
Although I voted for the opponents of my current congressman and state senators, I have had to admit that I have been impressed by them. They have turned out to be honest men and responsive public servants. They have turned out to be fair and honorable men. In future elections, I would consider voting for them, based on the performance I have seen so far. It would be a shame to turn good men out of office simply because I might have traditionally voted for the other party.
Perhaps it might be good if latter-day saints were to take a step back from the partisanship and the rancor and instead focus on whether or not we are represented by good people. Do our representatives lie to us? Do they have troubling histories with ethics? Are they more concerned with power and privilege than with doing the people’s business? If so, then we should find someone else for whom we can cast our vote. Some people will say that we are throwing away our vote by not choosing between the lesser of two evils. Joseph Smith once said, “And if we have to throw away our votes, we had better do so upon a worthy rather than upon an unworthy individual, who might make use of the weapon we put in his hand to destroy us with.”
Perhaps what’s needed is a political “Word of Wisdom.” Perhaps we should abstain from zealous devotion to “Tea Parties” and “Coffee Parties,” just as we abstain from tea and coffee. Perhaps doing so would decrease enmity and hostility and thereby improve our nation’s health, spiritual vitality, and summon God’s protection.
The unity of the faith is more important than which side wins and election. It is more important that latter-day saints rally behind the leaders of the Church when they ask us to defend traditional marriage, participate in the census, or to avoid associations with organizations that seek to incite sedition or rebellion against the governments we are bound to sustain. Building Zion is more important than building coalitions with zealots from either side of the political spectrum.