Why I am a liberal mormon
This post is going to be rather ambitious and therefore probably quite lengthy. I am attempting to answer the question of why/how I can be a Liberal Mormon from two directions. Firstly, I hope to answer my Latter Day Saint friend’s that are believe that a true LDS member can not identify his/her self as Liberal. I hope that not too many of those that I hold dear hold this view, but I know that it is a prevalent view and that I have heard variations of it voiced. Secondly, I hope to respond to my non-LDS or secular friends who look on to me with shock and wonder how I can so betray my liberal views and values by joining a church that they view as reactionary, backwards and unjust in so many areas. I know that this view is commonly held by even some of my closest friends and so I hope that I can address some of their wonder and disbelief at my choice. I hope to show that the LDS tradition is fundamentally a liberal one at its core that more so than even the standard Christian tradition embraces the acquisition of knowledge, freedom of expression, pacifism, peace and the need for a more just and equal society. As such, I am very proud to identify as part of this tradition and to place myself politically on the most consistent position on the political spectrum.
I will be quoting extensively from the LDS scriptures including the Book of Mormon, D +C, and the Books of Moses and Abraham as well as likely from the Old and New Testaments. For my non LDS readers, I use these not in an attempt to convince through scripture but to show my textual and scriptural basis for my beliefs
This post will be broken up into at least a few posts. The first will deal with the matter of a tradition of intellectualism and seeking knowledge, which is present in LDS tradition
I am shocked by how often LDS members received a poor reputation from being closed or narrow minded and unwilling to take other perspectives into account. While there are undoubtedly members that fit this categorization, the LDS tradition more than any other religious tradition is one based on finding and discerning truth. The thirteenth article of the LDS faith follows the words of the Apostle Paul and states. “ We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.1” Thus, we have an exhortation and an obligation to search out the good in all various ideas of the world and to build our understanding on the basis of collected and experienced truth.
One of those views of our church that separate us completely from many other Christian movements is our lack of belief in the infallibility and sole authority of any one set of scriptures. Our belief in continuing revelations is fundamentally a progressive one is that we believe that human knowledge is constantly expanding. The building of God’s kingdom on this earth is a work in progress that will require greater and more full understanding.
Our attitude towards the scriptures of other faiths and those that we do not consider cannon exemplified this attitude. Section 91 of the D+C is a revelation that answered the question of how we should view the Apocrypha or non-cannon works from the biblical period. It is only a few short lines so I will paste it whole
“1 VERILY, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly;
2 There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men.
3 Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated.
4 Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth;
5 And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom;
6 And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited. Therefore it is not needful that it should be translated. Amen.”
This perspective extends to non-Christian sources as well. Professor of History and Religion and Brigham Young University, Hugh Nibley, wrote ““in fact, early Mormon leaders saw no reason why Mohammed should not be considered a true prophet, for there have been many prophets, great and small, in the past whose words are not in the Bible.“
Indeed, so fundamental is our belief in the importance of truth and knowledge, that we believe that our fundamental goal in this world is to acquire light and knowledge.
Moreover, we ascribe the greatness of God to more than his power or omnipotence or any other show of strength. We hold that
“ D+C 93:36 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.”
Thus, as we grow in knowledge in accordance to truth, we become like our heavenly father and our mind is illuminated and expanded.
The place where we part ways with secular individuals is in our belief that knowledge of the world in terms of facts or statistics lack use and grounding without a spiritual understanding.
One of our Church President’s Spencer W. Kimball commented:
“Spiritual learning takes precedence. The secular without the foundation of the spiritual is … like the foam upon the milk, the fleeting shadow. … One need not choose between the two … for there is opportunity to get both simultaneously” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 390).”
It is not through mere empirical knowledge of the world, but through experiential knowledge acquired through faith and prayer that much
As such, we adhere closely to the words of Paul when he exhorts
“The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. …
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:11, 14).”
We do not discover divine truths through research or even merely philosophical inquiry, but through the conscious choice of obedience and faith
“ D+C 93:28 He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.”
“The role of obedience in gaining spiritual knowledge is crucial, as this comment of President Joseph Fielding Smith confirms:
“Now the Lord would give us gifts. He will quicken our minds. He will give us … a knowledge that will be so deeply rooted in our souls that [it] … can never be rooted out, if we will just seek for the light … and the understanding which is promised to us, and which we can receive if we will only be true and faithful to every covenant and obligation pertaining to the gospel of Jesus Christ” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1958, p. 22).”
We view this sort of knowledge as ingrained in the nature of humanity shared by our common sense of morals and a universal consciousness. This is a sort of knowledge that is not based on an individuals level of intellect, but on something that is accessible to individuals of all ages and persuasion if they but open themselves to communication with their heavenly father. Thus, we view a wider knowledge source that is neither biased nor merely available to certain individuals but open ended and free.
What does this all mean in terms of being a liberal Mormon? I tend to be extremely open to reading all sorts of literature, watching all sorts of films, attending religious services of every different faith, engaging in interfaith dialogue and discussions with those of all other beliefs and persuasions etc. I view these as tools in the acquisition of my own knowledge and my own personal growth. Yet, these things in order to truly benefit me must be based on a foundation of what I know to be true and a commitment to obey those commandments that I have covenanted to observe. Without this foundation, all knowledge is ephemeral and fleeting greatness that does not expand my light or intellect.
I think that it is this emphasis on the potential for truth in all things that leads me to be such a strong advocate for free speech, a tradition that is expressed both in the Book of Mormon society and the early church, this will be the topic of my next post.