I am finding it difficult to get very excited about politics this election year. Given that we are faced with momentus issues of war and peace this is a bit odd. This seems like a time when politics really matters. Part of the problem is that I am considerably less than enthusiastic about either candidate. However, I find that I am increasingly less interested and passionate about politics. In college I played at being a political activist. I worked on campaigns, did voter registration drives, etc. (In retrospect I admit that my political involvement was largely about meeting girls.) After college, I worked in Washington, D.C. because I wanted to be in politics. (And it happened to be where my wife was going to graduate school.) Hence, I am not an inherently apolitical guy. My current political funk leads me — of course — to theo-democracy.
In 1845, Orson Hyde gave a sermon at Nauvoo in which he taught:
- God presides over all things — both temporal and spiritual — both Church and State. He orders the events of nations, and controls the universe at pleasure; and if his servants are like him, if they partake of his spirit and of his disposition, they will seek to be co-workers with him in all things. The policy of God’s kingdom being perfect, it must, of course, embrace every good thing, whether temporal or spiritual, that can possibly contribute to he happiness and perfection of man. . . .
. . .
. . . The Latter-day Saints think proper to lose sight of this distinction [between spiritual and temporal] by uniting the two in one, and calling every thing an ordinance of religion that can tend to man’s perefection and happiness; whether it be to plough and sow fields, to buy and sell goods wares and merchanize, houses or lands; to go to the polls and vote, to prayer meeting or to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. All these, with us, are ordiances of religon; and whatsoever we do, we will to do all to the glory of God. (emphasis added)
Notice the way that Hyde embeds the political activity of voting in a much more comprehensive religious world. Now, as it happens, I very much like liberal democracy and political pluralism. I have to admitt a certain relief at not being called upon to live in a theocracy (or a theo-democracy). On the other hand, when I look at the brute mathematics of elections and realize how truely insignificant my vote is when it comes to determining the outcome of anything, I can’t help but feel a certain envy for the theo-democratic Mormons of the past. I can’t help but thinking that political activity embedded in the rich meanings of loyalty, covenant, prophecy, saints, and kingdom would be more satisfying than the politics of private decision, CNN, and soundbite.
Of course, there are alternative myths to give voting and politics power. There are myths of political community and America. There are even lingering Mormon political myths. We have the admonition to “prayerfully consider” issues and candidates. We even have some rare issues where the Church itself calls upon (some of us) to become politically involved. But none of these myths seem as powerful to me as the ones built around raw struggles for power, in which the unified saints, surrounded by hostile gentiles go to the polls en masse and as a block to insure that “our” people win. I have read enough history to know that this is a problematic myth. The defensive politics alluded to by Hyde were in large part responsible for creating the hostility that ultimately overwhelmed those defenses. (In large part, but not entirely: just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you!) Still there is something powerful and illicitly appealing about the politics of theo-democracy and I can’t help but feeling some sense of loss, especially when I contemplate the meaning of my choices this fall.