Those Darn Liberals Are @ It Again!By: hawkgrrrl
Recently, Professor Ralph Hancock wrote a critique of Joanna Brooks’ memoir Book of Mormon Girl and specifically a criticism of what he termed “Mormonism Lite,” which is equated with a liberal set of political ideals. In his latest missive, Prof. Hancock calls out Wheat & Tares along with ByCommonConsent and Times & Seasons:
In particular, I frankly challenge faithful LDS bloggers at what I had taken on the whole to be faithful LDS blogs (Times & Seasons, By Common Consent, Wheat & Tares, for example) to distinguish themselves — if they wish, that is — from voices on their sites that seem to reject out of hand any attempt (such as mine) to limit the absorption of LDS belief into what I will call “lifestyle liberalism” or “extreme tolerance.” I have to say I had hoped for more substantive discussion from such sites; but my recent experience suggests that, although surely not all principals on these blogs are fully committed lifestyle liberals, they are not at all inclined (or equipped?) to risk the wrath of the “hard left” among their associates and readers.
Lest we get too full of ourselves, he quickly adds:
I thank the appreciative readers who have posted at Meridian and particularly the brave readers who dared share a bit of my infamy by posting comments favorable or at least respectful of my arguments at the more, shall we say intellectually ambitious sites such as Times and Seasons or By Common Consent
Well, I have been giving a lot of thought to this matter actually. Not to Prof. Hancock specifically, nor (obviously) my stupidity and cowardice*, but reading his OP today triggered my ruminations about why people leave the church. I happen to know a lot of liberals who have left the church in the last few years, some who have stayed but felt very conflicted, and others who stay in name only. For many of them Prop 8 was an impetus to their disenchantment with the church. Others left for a variety of reasons, often stemming from interactions with family members or people in their wards. Was Pres. Packer in fact correct when he said the enemies of the church were homosexuals, feminists and intellectuals (or as I like to say gay people, women, and smart people)? Does that mean that the church’s friends are bigots, sexists and dumb people? Not a very promising prospect. I still feel quite strongly, as did Jesus, that he who is not against us is for us. And the apostate liberals I know turned the other cheek plenty before leaving. And frankly, they don’t feel antagonistic toward the church on the whole, just toward specific actions and attitudes they see as harmful. Liberals care a lot about harm, and they define it more . . . well, liberally . . . than conservatives do.
I’ve been reading Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind, and in his discussion of the five moral foundations he talks about the data that shows that for those who are most liberal leaning, they score very high for only 2 of them (care/harm, fairness/equality), but not high for the remaining 3 (loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degredation). Conservatives tend to score equally for all of them. A sixth foundation was added: liberty/oppression, and both groups dislike oppression but feel oppressed by very different things. Tea Partiers for example consider government intervention oppressive (“Don’t tread on me”) while liberals sometimes consider American government’s actions to be oppressive to other nations. For those who score very high on the care/harm front, they sometimes see people as victims who don’t see themselves as victims. When it comes to fairness, liberals (according to Haidt who is one and has studied tens of thousands of survey results) are universalist and tend to desire equality of outcomes, while conservatives are more protective of the health of their in-group than the world at large.
Both groups care about fairness but see different people as “free riders” and “cheaters”: liberals see those with power as the most dangerous (due to their low authority & loyalty foundations and extra-high care foundation) but conservatives see those who receive more from the system than they contribute to the system as the “cheaters” (different definition of fairness and liberty). This is the fundamental disconnect between the Occupy movement (people who characterize Wall Street and corporations as free riders and cheaters) and conservative response to the movement (people who characterize welfare recipients and those who want more government involvement to regulate and provide benefits as taking from those who have earned it and redistributing to those who contribute less). Part of this is because conservatives have faith in free markets to correctly assess and reward individual contribution whereas liberals view the free market as too easily “gamed” by the powerful – incorrectly rewarding individual contribution. Perhaps both criticisms have some validity.
The key is that both groups (liberals & conservatives) are acting on their strongly held convictions. They are both acting in good faith. But they really do espouse different values. I grew up in a ward where many of our leaders were very strongly left-leaning. Can you be a liberal Democrat and be a “good” Mormon? In my experience, yes you can.
One point that is valid, though, is that because of these differences in moral foundations, liberals will sometimes be seen as subversive, disloyal, too accepting of outsiders (and apostates and other dangerous influences), and also quixotically trying to rescue victims (or educate people why they are victims even when they don’t think they are). And attempts to squelch their voice will be considered oppressive, especially when the source is someone with more power – and obviously, that includes Ralph Hancock. (I do wonder if Gladys Knight could have written this critique with more success – hard to imagine her doing so, though).
The problem the church faces, IMO, is that we as a church can’t be intolerant of liberals or define them out of the fold. Conservatives are secure enough; you couldn’t have a church without those additional three moral foundations (authority, loyalty, and purity) – those are the things that make the church an enduring structure. But we do need to (also) listen to those who are more attuned (even hyper-sensitive) to care issues and who define equality differently and more broadly. We might find some common ground in the process. As Stephen Hopkins said: “I’ve never heard of an idea so dangerous that it couldn’t be discussed.”
We should all listen better when we hear an alternate viewpoint. Conservatives should listen when liberals talk about equality and charity – and clearly many of our leaders do. Liberals should listen when conservatives talk about the value of traditions that bind the group (while still respecting individual expression), giving heed to authority (without turning off your own personal revelation or mind), having high standards for membership (while refraining from oppression).
- Are we chasing liberals out of the church by being too insensitive to their values of caring for outsiders and desiring equality for all before God? Or are liberals going to leave anyway because they are suspicious of authority, are critical, and want to break group taboos with no consequences?
- Do conservatives have things to learn from liberal values? Do liberals have things to learn from conservative values? How can this happen with the current uncivil discourse that has become the norm?
- Are conservatives just getting more vocal because their party is not currently in power?
- Is this an issue of political values or orthodoxy vs. heterodoxy? Can the two be distinguished? Does either lead to apostasy more than the other?
- Will liberals stay in a church when they view the other members as bigoted, sexist and oppressive if they have had spiritual confirmation of the church’s truthfulness? Or is it just a matter of time before the social discomfort of the values disconnect becomes too great to bear?
- How can we find common ground and keep politics out of our church experience? Is that a pipe dream since political views are so closely linked to personal moral codes?
*I should clarify that I find it amusing to think of us all as stupid cowards. He does state he would like to engage in a real discussion of his ideas, despite the tone. Likewise with the BKP quote juxtaposition – I just think it’s valuable to examine the language and claims people make. Sometimes what they are implying and not saying is as instructive as what they are saying.