The 2020 Presidential election was an unusual one for Latter-day Saints. Two states with large Latter-day Saint populations, Nevada and Arizona, were swing states. And to the greatest degree in generations, Latter-day Saints seemed willing to vote for the candidate of either party.
Both parties knew this and recognized that shifting the Latter-day Saint vote ten points in either direction could make the difference. So both political machines went into overdrive to politicize and divide Latter-day Saints.
In our lifetimes the only real politicization we had experienced as American Latter-day Saints was being mobilized by Republican causes since we so often reliably voted that way as a people. This more recent election changed many Latter-day Saints’ relationship to politics from being pushed politically in one direction, to being pulled apart.
In many ways, this isn’t unique. Many commentators have noted increased politicization across many parts of our lives. And this divisiveness has not been kind to churches. Anglicans and now Methodists are seeing major schisms based on politics. And many others have simply begun to choose their church based on their politics. It seems that the election has merely served as a springboard to even more division.
It seems that the election has merely served as a springboard to even more division.
We had hoped that with the election’s passing, the politicization would pass as well. Unfortunately, it seems that the election has merely served as a springboard to even more division.
The January 6th conflict, the ongoing pandemic and related policies, new abortion laws, and LGBT+ issues have kept the political flames hot and continued to divide Latter-day Saints. In many ways, we are seeing signs of a “balkanization” similar to what M. David Huston predicted in our magazine earlier this year.
Reaching for this elusive unity can be difficult. In a recent essay for Deseret News, Daniel Frost, a professor of politics and religion at BYU, spoke about belonging. He concluded that there must ultimately be a basis for belonging, and he advocates for the continuing importance of a shared vision of truth. He writes, “Belonging based on truth assumes that truth can be known and shared, and that dedication to the truth is edifying for us as individuals and unifying for us as a people.”
For Latter-day Saints, this shared sense of truth is most often articulated in the unified statements of prophet leaders. And resistance to these statements from one or more of these politicized factions can create intense discomfort among other Church members.
As much as we possibly can, we hope all Latter-day Saints can stand behind the inspired counsel of our Church leaders across the variety of issues facing us today. As Frost points out, this is a critical part of our path to creating durable belonging in any community, including our own.
We must also, however, be able to endure deviations in vision from those that we simultaneously accept as part of our community and part of the body of Christ. We certainly do not need to capitulate on important matters.
We certainly do not need to capitulate on important matters.
The Church endured.
Today this pattern is particularly acute among those challenging Church leaders on issues of sexual morality. Many Latter-day Saints are aspiring for more ways to promote love and belonging. Those efforts should be met with appreciation and understanding.
Yes, there are reasons for concern. We certainly do not need to capitulate on important matters of principles and doctrine. But we recognize those sincere believers advancing these aspirations as part of the whole body of Christ, even when they struggle to align fully with prophetic counsel.
A similar pattern appears in matters of strident anti-vaccine advocacy. Those who push back on prophetic counsel on these matters harbor their own sincere questions and concerns. Yet, to the degree they undermine confidence in prophetic authority or stir up division in the body of Christ, they should also be challenged. As before, we must recognize that those resisting norms being encouraged are also fellow brothers and sisters, and we can hold space for a deeper unity of heart notwithstanding their grappling to be aligned with prophetic counsel.
Doctrinal and behavioral lines are legitimate. Maintaining boundaries is important in creating belonging so that we can maintain clarity on what precisely we belong to—and what we are about in our shared work. And those shared beliefs ultimately define what exactly we’re being united together in. But those lines do not need to be red, bold, neon, and instantaneous. As participants in a world that is more politicized today than ever, we hope that the Latter-day Saint people can simultaneously hold space for individual believers to wrestle and disagree, while still holding firm in our commitment towards and aspiration for a shared vision of truth. Shared beliefs ultimately define what exactly we’re being united together in. But those lines do not need to be red, bold, neon, and instantaneous.
Shared beliefs ultimately define what exactly we’re being united together in. But those lines do not need to be red, bold, neon, and instantaneous.
Even so, that larger aspiration for a common commitment to truth remains foundational. Unity and belonging do require on at least some level shared truth, shared vision, and shared purpose. But in pursuit of those shared ideals, we can welcome and seek to foster belonging among our fellow Saints even when we disagree.