Alienation – you keep using that word

I generally have vowed to stay out of specific political discussions online, but this is not about any specific political issue – I have seen this claim too often with many issues or candidates from all side of the spectrum and in different locales (and not just the presidential election in the USA that dominates discussion right now).

I am seeing far too many people declare that support for [a specific candidate or law or hot button political issue] is “alienating” (or various synonyms, but mostly that interestingly specific word) them from the rest of the Church membership.

If that is happening to you, I am sorry to say, then you have put politics as your idol, partisanship before discipleship. I have even seen several people saying things like finding out a church leader/ministering brother or sister/fellow church member supported candidate [X] or issue [Y], they would refuse to let that person even enter their house.

I could come up with examples from the right or left or center or even non-USA politics, but this is not about specific issues, (and any attempt to make it all about whatever specific issues you feel are more important than church fellowship in the comments will be frowned on).

One of the benefits and blessing of Church is learning to deal with messy, bizarre, screwed up humans and still loving them, despite their preferred politics, cultural preferences, or personal hygiene. Keep in mind someone else at Church thinks you’re the messed up crazy one (I know lots of people see me as the really screwed up dude at Church), but they will still show up to help you move or do your yard work or sustain you in a calling.

12 comments for “Alienation – you keep using that word

  1. Back in 2016, I was the one that didn’t agree with my Visiting Teachers when they tried to persuade me that the sign in my yard was a mistake, and I was in the wrong to not back their candidate (the one who became 45th President). I was gentle, explained my view, and said i wasnt worried if my 3rd party vote caused the other major candidte to win, I was ok with it. I just could never in good conscience vote for theirs. After that visit, I was unfriended by them on Facebook, and they asked to be removed as my visiting teachers, and I never saw them again ever. (Was serving an out of the ward at home mission at the time, so they had been my connection to the ward. By the time my mission was over one had moved and one had left the church.) Not so sure that they would have come to my aid for anything, though I had come to theirs many times.

  2. That’s a good example, Coffinberry. I’ve seen it happen on both sides, too. I stay off of Facebook just so my ward members don’t have to see me argue about politics (and vice versa), but I know there are some pretty stark political differences between me and people I’m deeply grateful to for everything they’ve done for me or my family. That fact helps me keep the political differences in perspective.

  3. I think I agree with you, Ivan, but I’m not sure I understand exactly.

    When Peter P. says “My support for [ISSUE/CANDIDATE] is alienating me from Church members,” that can be true as a descriptive matter and may be so regardless of Peter P.’s motivations or desire. if Peter P. is a vocal Democrat in rural Texas or a vocal Republican in Berkeley, the members of Peter P.’s ward may isolate him because they see him as so different from themselves that they do not invite him to social events, find it difficult to talk to him, distrust his views on moral issues, etc. Peter P. may be eager to learn from, socialize with, and serve the ward members around him, but they may not be receptive to that. In that situation, it is descriptively true that Peter P.’s politics are alienating him from the rest of the Church without any serious fault of his own.

    I agree with you that when Peter P. says, “Other Church members’ support for [ISSUE/CANDIDATE] is alienating me from the Church,” he has an issue that needs to be fixed. It doesn’t mean he needs to not care about that issue, think it’s a morally acceptable position, or anything approaching that. But even where he is confident he is right, he should proceed with humility and mercy. He must be willing to set aside (what he perceives as) others’ mistakes and continue to love and serve them – even when that means he loves and serves people with deeply problematic views.

  4. I generally agree with you. But please explain to me why somebody (who has otherwise treated me and my children very well) would show up at my house to help load some old furniture onto a truck while wearing a “Joe McCarthy was right” T-shirt? Getting in my face about a 75-year old political dispute felt a lot like a deliberate attempt to alienate me. Fortunately, he was late and the job was done, so the “not in my house” moment never happened.

  5. 1. I am not going to speculate about other people’s motivations, lacking telepathy or clairvoyance.

    At the same time, I am reminded of this quote from Tom Wolfe (no relation that I am aware of):

    “The important thing was not to admit you were wrong in any fundamental way. You couldn’t let anybody get away with the notion that just because the United States had triumphed, and just because some unfortunate things had come out after the Soviet archives were opened up . . . it looks like Hiss and the Rosenbergs actually were Soviet agents – and even the Witch Hunt, which was one of the bedrocks of our beliefs. . . these books by Klehr and Haynes, in the Yale series on American Communism, and Radosh and Weinstein make it pretty clear that while Joe McCarthy was the despicable liar we always knew he was, Soviet agents really did penetrate the U.S. government. Yale!-so respectable, too!-how could they give their imprimatur to these renegade right-wing scholars who do this kind of stuff? Not to mention the Spanish Civil War-archives! Turns out the Loyalists secretly called in the Soviets at the very outset of hostitities”

    2. If Church members are deliberately targeting someone or refusing to do service for them due to politics, this applies to them as well. But I mostly see people complaining that other Church members dare to support some political issue or person that they think is just wrong and how dare they. People are, basically, alienating themselves and need to start having a bit more epistemic humility about their own politics.

  6. For the record, I would not have had the same reaction to an “Alger Hiss was guilty” T-shirt. I would still have grumbled about dredging up 75-year old controversies, but reminding me of an uncomfortable truth and trying to rehabilitate a despicable liar are very different behaviors.

  7. I am saddened by the uncharitable messages put out by some pro-Trump, anti-Biden church members, and vice versa (of course, within LDS circles, the pro-Trump crowd outnumbers the pro-Biden crowd). Or course, Latter-day Saints should participate with the pluralistic society that we thankfully live in, but I wish there was more charity among us.

    I think it is entirely fine for a person with a minority opinion within a culture to feel alienated from others in the majority of the culture when that majority includes uncharitable loud-mouths who personally condemn those who hold a minority opinion. Rather than a person in the majority saying the minority opinion holder has “put politics as [his or her] idol, partisanship before discipleship,” I would hope that the church member in the majority would be kinder and more charitable to the fellow member in the minority, and maybe tone down his or her messaging.

  8. ji –
    since you have no idea whether I am in the majority or minority here (I’ll say, when it comes to politics I am in an extreme minority so far outside the right/left spectrum that there is nowhere I will ever be part of the majority), your calls for me to “tone down” are, at best, tone deaf (if not outright uncharitable, since it means you have made incorrect assumptions about me) since I am not a person in a majority position telling those in a minority position to calm down.

    Knee jerk feelings of alienation are understandable. Dwelling on them, marinating in them, posting about them on social media, attacking Church membership in general over this alienation – that is partisanship over discipleship.

  9. Ivan, I never called for you to tone it down, and I never made any assumptions about you, but if the shoe fits, please wear it. There is room for charity all around.

    You assert again that the minority member who feels alienated among fellow Latter-day Saints has chosen partisanship over discipleship. Maybe, but maybe also the majority member who antagonizes the minority member has already and also chosen partisanship over discipleship? Yes, there is room for charity all around. I strongly recommend it.

  10. There’s a big difference between “I feel alienated from my ward because I disagree with the politics of the members” and “I feel alienated from my ward because of the way members treat me because they disagree with my politics.” Both are unacceptable, but at least in the former case the person who is putting partisanship above discipleship is also the primary victim (though everyone loses in both cases).

    The standard is simple and clear: “Members should not judge one another in political matters. Faithful Latter-day Saints can belong to a variety of political parties and vote for a variety of candidates. All should feel welcome in Church settings.” (Handbook 38.8.30) We should recognize this is hard: the current election has weighty consequences and generates strong feelings. Also, there are many voices seeking to “stir up the people to anger”, some with the classic Book of Mormon motive of gaining power; others simply for profit. One difference between someone you disagree with politically and someone with personal hygiene issues is that few of us have people we usually agree with loudly proclaiming that people with hygiene issues are evil and should be shunned.

    And yet we must put discipleship first. The baptismal covenant described in Mosiah 18 contains no exception for people whose politics we disagree with, or even find abhorrent. If we’re not clear about our priorities, it’s all too likely that the coming election and its aftermath will drive a wedge between ourselves and our sisters and brothers in Christ, the Church as an institution, or both–no matter which side we’re on politically.

    Of course this becomes a lot easier if you simply don’t know the politics of most of your sisters and brothers in Christ and they don’t know yours. “Political choices and affiliations should not be the subject of any teachings or advocating in Church settings.”

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