I cannot count how many times I’ve been asked, “How can someone be a member of the Church and a Democrat?” I’ve gotten pretty good over the years of not rolling my eyes or lashing out. The question usually comes from a place of ignorance, not malice. I’m appreciative of those who have met my ignorance with kindness, so I’m trying to respond the same way to others when I hear this question. I typically redirect with a question of my own: What do you think the Church means when it affirms its political neutrality? This usually leads to a conversation where we can come to a better understanding of each other.
However, I am alarmed when I often see, not a question, but a statement, “You can’t be a faithful member of the church and a Democrat.” This is incorrect thinking and, frankly, it’s bullying. Whether the statement comes from a place of ignorance or malice doesn’t change the fact that it’s not appropriate and is often intimidating. We do harm when we assert that one ideology or political party is morally superior to the other. It’s counter to the Church’s official position and shows hostility to those who think differently than you do.
I have personally seen the damage that comes when members of my faith community equate conservatism with religion. I have friends, family and students who feel judged and ostracized for their political leanings–some have even left the church over it. Everyone is responsible for their own faith. I believe it is unwise and harmful to blame someone else for your faith crisis. However, we also have a responsibility to treat others as we would want to be treated. The church has made it abundantly clear that it is non-partisan. They do not endorse candidates or political parties. I do not judge others faith, or lack thereof, by their political affiliations. I have known great people of faith all over the political spectrum. I only ask for the same courtesy in return.
We should be able to talk about our political identification–why we believe what we do and how we came to these conclusions— without any fear of reprisal or rejection. I am saddened when my deeply held convictions are met with skepticism or derision. We must be a community of saints, not a tribe of ideologues.
Members of the Church in the US are typically conservative. However, as this PEW research shows, and several news outlets have written about, the 2016 election of Donald Trump has changed some of that. With election season upon us, no member of the church should feel bullied or judged because they are thinking deeply about the future of the country and may come to different conclusions than their fellow saints. So, if you can’t understand why someone thinks or votes the way they do, that’s an indictment of you, not them. It’s incumbent upon all of us to be people of kindness, empathy and understanding. We have a great opportunity to do that in an election cycle which will surely be contentious and divisive. We as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can, and should be, a model for the nation on how to understand and respect each other.