Conservatism and Mormonsim

The genesis of this post came from a Sunday school lesson where I had been asked a question that had never been posed to me before - Why is conservatism, free market capitalism, being a republican, woven into the fabric of the doctrine and lifestyle of being a Mormon? It seems like those are ideologies and the Mormon faith are one in the same.

I have hesitated to write about my faith. It's something that is sacred and personal; not something that I would want to be mocked. Religion is a individual relationship with God. However, I don't see this topic as much doctrinal as I see this as a historical investigation of the beginning of my faith.

There is an underlying dogma and unwritten order of things that pertain The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (The Church). Leaders of The Church have an extraordinary amount of influence on members and the perception of The Church to the world. I believe that some of this conservative ideology is scripturally found, but also heavily influenced by early Church members experiences and leaders philosophies.

Take what I say with a grain of salt. I'm not a theologian, historian, or political expert. I even cite wikipedia.

Roots of Conservatism

The Restoration of the Gospel came at a time of great religious fever, referred to as a Second Great Awakening. It was also on the heels of a new nation. It was a time of exploration, endless possibilities, new beginnings, and birth of American industry. And it was a nation which was led by Christians. This is the environment where we find the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was a son to a merchant turned farmer, who faced several failures, but was able to provide for his family due to a free market. Joseph was shown hard work first hand. Farming is a great teacher of humility, faith, business, and economics. If you don't work hard, you don't eat. If you don't have a risk management plan (a drought hits, crops die) you are going to pay the price.

The very foundation of our nation was continuing to be forged and laid as Joseph grew up.  It was a time of exploration and expansion. Fortunes won off the back of ingenuity and opportunity. This undoubtedly shaped him and his personal ideology. The boy Prophet would later become the leader of the Restored Church and a whole host of members, who were heavily influenced by his thoughts and leadership.

These early members of The Church were largely from Europe and had come to a place where the old rules did not apply. They saw others make a good living out on their own and followed suit. These members were pioneers; one who goes forward. And in order to go forward, as they would as they were forced out from town to town, they would have to be entrepreneurial. They built beautiful cities out of swamps and unwanted land. They forged a path through hardship and prospered (for the most part). They saw the fruits from their labors. The Church was the center of their lives. It was their social outlet and sometimes its education.

This idea of industry was backed by scripture, from the Bible to the Book of Mormon. There are multitudes of examples of those working hard and remaining faithful that then are blessed.

From the Bible: The parable of the talents. The story of Job. Even the commandment of keeping the sabbath day holy invokes followers to work the other six days. This is with the understanding that Christians do not become greedy and are willing to give it all up for the Lord.

From the Book of Mormon: Nephi explicitly states that his people were "industrious, and to labor with their hands". Amulek was a man of great worth. The Jaredites "were exceedingly industrious, and they did buy and sell and traffic one with another, that they might get gain... And never could be a people more blessed than were they...". Adam Smith would have said 'Amen' to that.

The most sacred reading material endorsed a capitalist approach of fending for ones self and profiting from it; even being blessed by the Lord for it! This is still taught today. In the most basic Sunday School classes members are taught the principles of work and the blessing from it. This is something I believe in and have experienced first hand.

I must note that greed and envy, which is often associated with capitalism and the free market, is not condoned. There are plenty of examples in the both scriptural texts that forbid it. This is best taught by the Savior in his conversation with the rich man. In fact, sharing wealth is a doctrine of The Church and Gospel of Christ. A central mission of The Church is to give to the poor and needy. "Even as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Christians are commanded to help the poor.

The early leaders of The Church put a lot of stock into this economic thinking and freedom and even created their own currency and bank in the late 1830's. This failed and almost ruined The Church. The early Church also tried the Law of Concentration, which draws rough secular parallels to socialism. While this ultimately failed as well, this is how the true order of God's Kingdom will be established, to ensure that there are no poor among His people. The early members of the restored church believed in creating and participating in an economy.

Joseph Smith would also announce that he would run for President of the U.S. in 1844. Church members were encouraged to proselyte on his behalf and donate to his campaign. His platform was: "principles of liberty and equal rights, Jeffersonian democracy, free trade, and sailors' rights, and the protection of person and property..." Joseph also advocated for the "abolition of slavery, the establishment of a national bank, the adoption of a "judicious tariff," a reduction in the size of the House of Representatives, economy in government, annexation of Texas and Oregon, reform of the penal system, elimination of courts martial, and granting of power to the President to suppress mobs without waiting for a request from state governors." That is a range! These views were shaped by his experiences with local governments that didn't protect him or his people. This was an ambitious undertaking and one that would not be fulfilled. Joseph would be martyred that same year. There is some speculation as to how serious he was about following through with running for President.

These early failures would be an important learning lesson for the following leaders of The Church, who would take an obscure faith nestled in the Utah Mountains, to a worldwide Church. The ultimate story of the restoration of The Church and early saints is one of entrepreneurship, freedom of religion, and distrust of the government. Shades of principles that conservatives believe in.

Influencing the World

Missionary work has been a pillar of The Church since its creation. It is a principle that Jesus taught and that Latter-Day Saints follow. The effort to spread the gospel has had a secondary effect of spreading an ideology of conservatism. For example, there is an entire arm of The Church that is dedicated to helping its members become employed to become self-reliant in order to provide for their family. A noble and worthy cause.

The principles of the Gospel are the political views of The Church. These principles are of course what its members study, teach, preach and are encouraged to try and live. It is only natural then for members to adopt those views. It could also be argued that people with a similar viewpoint would be more attracted to these ideas.

The political views of The Church were put on a larger platform in the 1950's when a Mormon Idaho man named Ezra Benson served under President Eisenhower as Secretary of Agriculture. This era was during the cold war and communism was highly scrutinized and the number one enemy of the United States. He openly opposed communism and socialism. Ezra Benson would later become the 13th Prophet and President of The Church. He gained notoriety when he condemned socialism and communism and proclaimed that the constitution would hang by a thread. In his presidency, he would preach for preserving the constitution and fighting for freedom.

Fast forward to the 2000's. The Church finds itself in a changing landscape. People are much more liberal in their views and what was taboo and unacceptable is now becoming the norm. It's a unique place to stand in for The Church, who now has membership in the tens of millions and is worldwide. Take for instance proposition 8 in California. The Church helped fun a campaign opposing a bill to recognize same sex marriage. The official stance of The Church was never more obvious than when it put down money.

Money also can be a sticking point for a lot of folks. When you peel back the curtain and realize The Church has billions of dollars in investments - from cattle to radio to a shopping mall - The Church does it all. How then can it's own members not believe in the value of money. Counter to the slanted view that many see is the arm of The Church that helps millions around the world.


This post isn't complete. You could probably say this isn't even that well written, but I think it helps to put in context of what is happening in our current day.. for about 2% of the US population... The elected President is one of the most unpopular President's to ever take office and won Utah by a landslide. Why? Because he had a (R) by his name. Almost 60% of Mormons identify as Republican or Conservative. Mormons believe strongly in religious freedom, life, limited government, and a free-economy. Think about the past. Think about the doctrine.

Part of being Mormon is subscribing to this way of thinking.

______________ Update ______________

My brother pointed out another fundamental policy that Mormons and conservatives hold dear - abortion. Life, having a body, is one of the most sacred things in Christian faith. It is universally believed in Christianity that we are created by God. Life is divine. This issue alone would convince a person to remain loyal to the Republican platform. 

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