This editorial was written by Scot Oppenlander, Mason Mcfadden and Bailee Merrill and approved by Scroll’s editorial board.
We have a problem in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and in Rexburg.
It is not an issue of faith or a problem with our leadership. It is a problem among the members.
The political dialogue today has become toxic. It’s seeped into how we treat, perceive and interact with other members of the church — we wedge barriers in between us and “the other side.”
The majority of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lean toward republican and conservative values, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. This inevitably causes political dialogue to come up in the church.
The political discussions about recent events have been anything but healthy. On a popular Facebook post about gun control, conservatives referred to liberals “crazy,” “evil worthless people” and “disgusting.” Liberals engage in this name calling towards conservatives as well. Both sides fling their metaphorical mud at one another.
We’ve come to a political standoff. Both sides are pointing fingers at what’s wrong with the other side rather than discussing how to solve the problems that different policies may bring up. They fail to see that they likely have similar goals: unity, equality and helping those in need. They simply have different ways they believe those goals should be achieved.
At Scroll, we believe that as members of the church, our goal should not be to persuade others to conform to our political beliefs but to strive to empathize with and understand their beliefs instead. Ultimately, we want to achieve greater harmony among ourselves.
The issue with Church members and political dialogue
Political affiliation is almost seen as a personality trait in today’s society. It is a factor that is taken into account in dating and friendships. It can affect relationships with family members. Church members who are democratic may exclude republican members from their friend circles because of differing opinions and beliefs and vice versa. Understandably, people want to be with others who are like-minded. However, this limited mindset can lead to division and hurt.
Studies show that when we engage in highly emotional discussions such as those with political subjects, we become involved in a hypervigilant state. This puts the mind in a sort of panic and hinders our ability to make thought-out, rational decisions. In this state, it’s nearly impossible to look at a situation from another person’s perspective; it halts the possibility of being empathetic.
“Everyone loses,” Amanda Ripley quoted Eyal Rabinovitch, Resetting the Table’s co-founder, in an article for Solutions Journalism. “Such conflicts undermine the dignity and integrity of all involved and stand as obstacles to creative thinking and wise solutions.”
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a person in the church who knows how to have a civil, respectful political discussion; but in general, because our political beliefs can be highly sensitive topics, we stick to them and feel threatened if we believe they are challenged.
The political situation is not a war zone. Our beliefs are not meant to be weapons to attack the other side for their “horrendous” viewpoints in an effort to help them discover their flaws in thinking, and thus, leading them to believe exactly as we do.
The truth is, neither side will win and politics shouldn’t be viewed as a war ground. We can stand for our beliefs while still being kind to others.
“Every man has as much right — prophets, apostles, saints, and sinners — to his political convictions as he has to his religious opinions,” Wilford Woodruff said in Saints, Vol. 2. “Don’t throw filth and dirt and nonsense at one another because of any difference on political matters. That spirit will lead us to ruin.”
Seeking for unity rather than division
Needless separation and contention do no good for anyone involved. It only proves to slow our political progress as we work against ourselves.
The Founding Fathers’ goal was in part “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, (and) insure domestic Tranquility”; this goal applies to our country, but it also applies to our church. In order to reach this goal, we must shift how we approach politics as church members.
“Anger is the way to division and enmity,” said Dallin H. Oaks in an October 2020 General Conference address. “We move toward loving our adversaries when we avoid anger and hostility toward those with whom we disagree. It also helps if we are even willing to learn from them.”
In a church where millions of people with different cultures, backgrounds and political beliefs all interact, the goal should not be to persuade everyone to believe exactly as we do. Our goal should instead be to work to understand, empathize with and respect beliefs of all kinds.
Viewing other political standpoints with empathy
“If ever there’s a time in our country we could use some civil dialogue, it’s now,” Sen. Doug Ricks said in an interview with Scroll.
Krystal Rodriguez, a sophomore from Chicago studying communication, said that when she lived in Chicago the unspoken understanding was, “If you don’t hate someone who voted for Trump, then you’re wrong and you’re justifying their reasonings.”
She said when she was leaving home to come to Rexburg for the first time, she held onto that belief — until she met her Trump-supporting roommate. As Rodriguez got to know her roommate, she realized that maybe she was wrong about her initial perspective.
“To me, she showed a lot of Christlike love to other people and I would ask, ‘How could you vote for someone like that but you’re the sweetest person I’ve ever met?’” Rodriguez said.
Her view about the other side softened. She said she realized that just because a person voted a certain way did not make them a bad person. However, she said people living in a relatively religious, conservative city like Rexburg can have warped views about liberals as well.
“People here don’t understand what goes on over there; it’s so different,” Rodriguez said. “They wouldn’t understand why we push a lot of certain things that we want because it would affect neighborhoods over there, not over here.”
Rodriguez illustrates the point that it’s possible to respect the other side’s viewpoints while still supporting your own.
Solving toxic political dialogue doesn’t lie in abandoning political discussions altogether; it doesn’t lie in the belief that ignorance is bliss. It lies in educating ourselves, listening to others and striving to take an empathetic look at their opinions.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states that as a church, they do not “attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to.” However, they do encourage members “to play a role as responsible citizens in their communities, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter which party you support, as long as you’re educated and informed about your decision. The most important factor is to treat others with love, despite their political affiliation.
The scripture isn’t, ‘love your enemies — unless they’re Democratic,’ or, ‘love thy neighbor — unless they’re Republican.’
Matt 5:43-44 says, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
Your political affiliation has nothing to do with your salvation.
“Those who govern their thoughts and actions solely by the principles of liberalism or conservatism or intellectualism cannot be expected to agree with all of the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Elder Oaks said in the February 1987 edition of the Ensign. “As for me, I find some wisdom in liberalism, some wisdom in conservatism, and much truth in intellectualism — but I find no salvation in any of them.”
Specific ways to change the dialogue
In February 2020, a dinner was organized in Bentonville, Arkansas for a project called “Looking For America.”
“A mix of conservatives, progressive artists, immigrants, retirees, students and young professionals” grouped together for this dinner where moderators sat at the tables with them, prompting discussions based on various politically-minded questions as Leigh Giangreco said in an article for the Washington Post.
“The intent of the dinners is not to change minds but to change the tone of public dialogue,” Giangreco said.
These dinners had great results; liberals and conservatives were able to laugh together. They took the time to listen to and understand each other, fostering an atmosphere of unity. They treated each other as people rather than as enemies.
This is the kind of attitude we, as church members, should have in similar situations.
Here are some specific ideas for adjusting the way we approach political dialogue:
— Strive to approach politics with curiosity and interest. This will take you out of a defensive mindset, allowing you to be more open to listen to and analyze what is being discussed.
— Use these discussions as opportunities to educate yourself and your opinions. Be open to the idea that you may not have all the answers and that you can learn from others.
— Don’t be afraid of complexity. Be willing to look at issues from multiple sides so you can see the whole picture.
Church members’ end goal: love one another
When you take the time to listen to a person’s story, hearing why they believe the way they do, their beliefs are no longer a threat to you — they are simply opinions.
Being a good person should not be based on political ideologies. Spitting on the other side does not result in unity, but in turn, leads to further division and hurt.
The toxicity of political differences is something that we need to address. We need to focus on working together to unify ourselves as members of the Church. We have to stop focusing on what makes us different and focus on what bring us together. At the end of the day, the political party you support is not your most defining factor. As Church members, our goal at the end of the day is to love God and love our neighbors.
“Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved,” said President Thomas S. Monson in an October 2008 General Conference address.
Do not get hung up on political ideals. See people for who they fully are, rather than simply labeling them as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’ We are more than our political affiliations. We are children of God.
If we try to work together instead of against each other, we can grow closer as a church and as a community. We need that strength now more than ever.