I grew up in a home where politics were never discussed. It’s not as though we didn’t have fascinating and stimulating dinnertime conversations (the most heated ones were always about English usage). We just never talked about the issues of the day. Consequently, I had little understanding of the political landscape of our country. When I was a freshman in high school, the first assignment I had in my social studies class was to compare and contrast the terms “liberal” and “conservative.” To complete the assignment, I had to look in the encyclopedia, as I had no idea what the assignment was talking about.
I did have a vague sense that I was a Democrat at heart — after all, that’s what my parents were, and I always found myself rooting for the Democrats on Election night. I remember being sad when Carter lost. I didn’t have any sense of why, though. I could argue much more convincingly about baseball than politics.
This state of affairs continued on through high school, and then I was off to BYU. Sometime during my first semester there, I was invited to give a talk in sacrament meeting on the topic of the importance of the scriptures in our lives. Alas, this was before I recognized the wisdom of writing out my talks, so I can only report on my memory of the event.
At some point in the talk that I can’t reproduce as I replay it in my mind I made a point in which I made the following statement: “I’m a registered Democrat.” It was kind of a throwaway comment, not central at all to my argument, and I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I can’t imagine that I didn’t have some awareness that most of the people in the room probably were not fellow Democrats, but the thought certainly wasn’t foremost on my mind.
I was reasonably happy with the talk (although looking back, I find that it was probably exactly what you would expect from a recent high school graduate trying to sound intelligent in front of his new peer group â€“ maybe itâ€™s better that I donâ€™t have a copy to read now) and I didn’t think much about it after it was over. As I was moving from Sunday School to priesthood meeting, a sister in the ward who I didn’t know by name came up to me and thanked me for my remarks. “I really appreciated your talk,” she said, with slightly more enthusiasm that I might have expected from a relative stranger. Then, she glanced around nervously two or three times, grabbed my arm, and whispered in my ear, “I’m a Democrat too.”
I was stunned, at a loss for words. I thanked her politely and went off to class, to wonder and marvel at what had just happened. Had I unwittingly initiated myself into some kind of secret combination? What would prompt this woman to thank me merely for mentioning my political affiliation? Why was she so afraid?
Of course, I’m a bit more attuned to Mormon and national politics these days. Looking back, I feel sad for the sister who stopped me that day, who must have suffered ostracism, real or perceived, before that moment to feel to thank me for publicly stating what she felt she could not. I hesitated to use the words “coming out” in the title of this post, not wanting to make light of the struggles faced by those dealing with same-sex attraction in the Church. But other commenters here have used similar imagery recently to describe their experiences as politically liberal members of the Church.
I have had similar experiences on a homeschooling forum I visit regularly. The audience there is overwhelmingly evangelical, Republican, and conservative. Kerry, Democrats, and the left are routinely pilloried. I occasionally take up the cause of the left there when I feel that a particular position is being grossly and irresponsibly misrepresented, or just when I’m feeling ornery. I have received more than one private message thanking me for doing so, from people who don’t feel they can take such stands publicly in the face of so much opposition.
The funny thing is, I donâ€™t consider myself to be particularly liberal (I voted for Bush in 2000, for what it’s worth), brave, or persecuted. Iâ€™m mostly naÃ¯ve. I often donâ€™t recognize the possibility that what I think politically might cause others to dislike me, or mock me, or abuse me verbally or otherwise. As I sit and ponder why this might be, I like to think that itâ€™s because I expect others to treat me as I treat them. The truth is probably less flattering.
My dad, whose favorite conversational bones are obscure points of doctrine, English grammar, and his time spent as Scoutmaster, has been unusually engaged this campaign season. He frets and fumes about President Bush and the war in Iraq constantly. The sudden change is what prompted me to recall my own experiences growing up in my family. I asked my mom recently why we never talked politics in our house when I was young. She replied, only half-jokingly, â€œWe didnâ€™t want you to be social outcasts at church.â€?
Maybe we need more naive people.