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Great work, Dave. It seems to me that the gay marriage response from the Church has three aims:

1) Decry something that it sees as inherently vile.

2) Get in bed with the religious right, possibly in an effort to align ourselves more broadly with mainstream Protestantism (a trend seen in other actions as well).

3) Use the issue as an us/"the world" wedge.

I view #2 as naive at best. The religious right is a club we can never, ever join. I've used this metaphor a number of times because I simply can't think of anything better to explain it. They'll let us carry their water, but we can't be "one of them" until we drop our exclusive truth claims, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon. I doubt that will happen.

#3 doesn't make sense to me because most people don't support gay marriage and most people stigmatize homosexuals and define them as a definite "them". Who said identity politics had to make sense, right?

Dave:

What evidence do you have that SSM is a defining left-right policy issue? Or even a Dem-Rep policy issue? Read the political platforms-- neither even mentions SSM. Look at all the state-wide votes on SSM. Every public referendum that has been put to a popular vote has been decisively decided in the favor of the traditional definition of marriage (1 man & 1 woman)-- even in predominantly democratic states. D-Train points out that most Americans do not want SSM so how does SSM become a defining policy issue of left-right politics unless in your heart of hearts you want it to be?

I'll grant that if one polled the national political leadership one would probably find statistical evidence indicating a policy preference between Democrats and Republicans but that difference could be attributable to any number of motives. There are left and right arguments to be made for and against SSM. I personally know just as many Republicans who could care less about SSM (based on libertarian arguements) as I know Democrats who oppose it (based on government rights of oversight).

I think your angst springs from the fact that your own politics tend to swing left/Democrat and you support SSM. You conclude, therefore, that admonitions by Church leadership to oppose SSM are implicit admonitions to support right/Republican politics. I don't think such a leap is supportable or rational.

Hmmm.

I believe that there are those in the church who are basically social liberals EXCEPT for the issue of abortion. Recognition of homosexual marriage is *almost* (but not quite) of the same intensity of feeling. If the Republican Party OR the Democratic Party changed their position on those two issues, Utah would, almost instantly (within a year) become much more balanced. If BOTH parties changed their positions (e.g., if they changed sides), look for Utah to suddenly become a Democratic, Blue state! The feeling of individuals is much more balanced than the polsters think. I'd really like them to ask the question: "If abortion and homosexual marriage were not issues, would your personal feelings lean more toward Republican views, or Democratic views?"

There's a Dialogue article by Michael Quinn that focuses on Benson's politics. That article does assert that Benson was sent to Europe to cool off.

I'm a little uncertain as to whether the Apostles were actually taking jabs at each other in their conference talks, as the article suggets, but it seems to give a good overview of the issue.

I haven't read Prince's book yet. Thanks for the summary.

Paul, you're making incorrect inferences regarding my policy preferences (see here), but I'm not going to make it a "here are Dave's political views" thread.

My closing paragraph was really just an attempt to make the Communism isse (which seems like ancient history to some readers -- remember the Berlin Wall fell in 1989!) more relevant to today's LDS political issues.

It's worth noting that on Communism, there was only one visible strong advocate (Benson) and one behind the scenes advocate (McKay, whose anti-Communist vigor was unappreciated until recently). On SSM, I think the Big 15 are unanimously opposed and willing to involve the Church politically to further that opposition. I think a lesson that can be drawn from the Communism episode is that dragging the Church into politics will create divisions within the Church and even within leadership. I'm not really opposed to LDS views on SSM, but I do think getting the Church involved in politics is a big mistake.

I enjoyed this very much, Dave. Thank you.

I imagine that there are some very flustered folks in the leadership due to the divisions that do arise over political issues. I was raised to see the church as a unifying force, even in politics...you might guess what my parents politics were/are.

The concept if god's truth and inspired leadership has always rubbed roughly against separation of church and political power/influence. It's actually quite amazing that we've come this far and no doubt due largely to the American ideal of secular government.

Dave,
I have heard at least one talk directly from the pulpit by DOM decrying communism as a plan of the devil on the LDS voices podcast. I think it was quite obvious what his stand was. I also have a hard time believing that the rest of the brethren were pro-communism. The John Birch Society thing and its divisiveness was the threatening part. You state it was not hard to see communism as Satan's plan. I guess I just don't see any evidence for seeing it otherwise. Yes, it seems distant now but the cold war threatened the earth for over forty years.

I don't want Mormons to find a place in America. I don't want them comfortably settled in any of the political parties. The moment they find a place to fit in, they will become Americans first, and Mormons second. And perhaps they will simply become Americans and nothing more.

Mormons must remain in exile if they are to remain God's people.

This is why political conservativism currently presents the most damaging threat to our religion.

Doc, I probably didn't note it in my post, but it is made clear in the chapter that all LDS leaders opposed Communism, it was just a question of how that opposition should be exercised and what role (if any) the Church should play.

Benson worked hard, over many years, to get McKay and the Church to publicly endorse the Birch Society. Thorpe B. Isaacson was the only other leader supporting that effort; all others were opposed, with several, such as Hugh B. Brown, having a visceral dislike for the Birch Society.

The John Birch Society has always been considered to be part of the populist lunatic right, by "movement" conservatives and neo conservatives, from William Buckley to Irving Kristol. All are and were staunch anti-communists.

Given the Communist denial of religious liberty it is hard to see how any member of the Church could be pro-communist in its twentieth century formulation. Indeed the leading Democrats of that era from Truman to Johnson were all anti-communist as well. Socialism of course is another story. By one definition of the term, the Church is socialist from first to last - the role and extent of coercion is the dividing principle that typically distinguishes religious socialism from secular socialism.

There's a lot of room for disagreement within the umbrella of anti-communism. I think this quote in the post captures the problem in a nutshell.

"...No true Latter-day Saint and no true American can be a socialist or a communist or support programs leading in that direction."

Anything left of the far right could be labeled as being in the direction of communism or socialism. So if John Birchers call something that people could reasonably view as good--say, water fluoridation--part of a communist/socialist plot, and Elder Benson lends his support to the JBS, then someone might reason that to support water fluoridation is to reject the Brethren.

Furthermore, I remember reading somewhere that Saints in other countries where socialism was accepted were put in a difficult position because they might genuinely like their country's socialist party/policies.

I think that within the Church it was not so much a question of whether communism was good or bad, but a question of emphasis, priorities, and perceptions.

Ah, I didn't notice the quote lumped socialists in with communists. I agree, that is a little different and ironic in light of a little thing called the United Order.

The Dialogue article I mentioned above is in the issue available here. (27:2)

It's out of print, but Brigham Young University: A House of Faith covers the turbulence over communism on the BYU campus. Things like Wilkenson initiating a student spy ring to see what professors were saying about communism, denying it, then admitting it, (then) Elder Benson taking a personal interest in who was teaching economics, and (then) Pres. Oaks' attempts to fend off the right wing (there's a tough spot to be in). Oh yes, and Cleon Skousen had to be told to quit promoting his anti-communism organization in classes. I think most of this happened in the 70's after Pres. McKay died.

1) Communism was a real, expansionist threat to freedom, and freedom remains a new and fragile institution. One can argue about the effectiveness of Benson's methods, but his heart was in the right place. In the end, communism collapsed (Thank G-d softly) when it's expansion stalled, as is the case with all expansionist empires. The bipartisian containment policy worked!

2) I don't get the jump from anti-communism to gay bashing. One was a freedom movement, the other an anti-freedom one. I long for the day when America is truly the home of the free (decriminalize private use of recreational drugs, zone prostitution, total free speech to advertize booze, tabaco, etc.) G-d bless the Dutch for they shall lead the west to the promised land!

I'll add that communists called themselves socialists and many European democratic socialists did form alliances with communists. I'm sure that's why Benson lumped them together, and in that context, his view is quite defendable. A true democratic socialist would reject communists as evil, the Late French Pres Mitterand being instrumental in the collapse of communism is a prime example.

My beef with democratic socialism is it's just another attempt at tyranny, albeit by a majority. But I don't feel it's inherently evil. Communism is evil.

I personally heard some of Elder Benson's anti-communist statements. Back then, his methodologies galled my dad, who understood oppression, having grown up in Nazi Germany. He hated communism, but couldn't go along with Elder Benson's vociferous methods.

I still remember the day Pres. Kimball died. I was at my parents' house, and we saw Pres. Benson on a news flash. He seemed utterly ebullient. Dad said, "Well, he always wanted to be in charge, and now you can see how happy he is that he got it." But a few days later when the new First Presidency held a news conference, the new prophet was a different man. I was amazed to see the transformation. He never did return to his old 'bulldog' nature after that.

Elder Scott has spoken publicly of how open the Brethren are in council meeting discussions. I think, in quoting Elder Maxwell, he used the term, "with our gloves off." I do think they learned from the days of public disagreements to keep those disagreements inside the council room. You might find it interesting to study about some of the same public lack of unity among the Brethren back in the time when the formation of the U.N. was being debated.

McKay's role in this is puzzling. He gave other LDS leaders wide leeway in voicing their own views.

That style comes through in the book. There is a lot to consider about organizations, leaders and style. Each style has its own strengths and problems.

It is an interesting idea to view the anti-communist views of LDS leaders as a situation that ultimately pushed the LDS Church membership largely towards the right/conservative side of U.S. politics. I hadn't quite pictured that before. At the same time, I don't regret that President McKay or ETB were opposed to communism. The USSR's special brand of totalitarianism was indeed malefic and I don't think it was merely a spectre "haunting Mormonism" but rather it was haunting the entire world.

WAS, you say.

And you'd be right.

We've largely forgotten all about the threat it posed, how important it seemed at the time.

And all in less than 10 years ...

I don't think the Church moved to the right so much, rather the Democrats moved sharply to the left ~1972, making it hard to be a morally conservative Democrat any more. That transition practically defines what it means to be neo-conservative. The ironic thing is that by doing the Democrats essentially created a permanent Republican majority, for both good and evil.

Mark,

I don't know what the neoconservatives think about fiscal policy and moral issues and stuff.

But neoconservative foreign policy and liberal foreign policy are pretty much indistinguishable.

I would say rather they *were* indistinguishable, then Democratic coalition split, the neo-conservatives aligned with Ronald Reagan and the Republicans, and the rump of the Democratic party produced the weak, vacilliating and impotent foreign policy of Jimmy Carter. I can't say much for Clinton's foreign policy either, with the exception of NAFTA - he demonstrated some real principle there.

We need to wait a few years to get a proper perspective on Bush's foreign policy, though it clearly has weaknesses - I suspect Reagan, Truman, Eisenhower, or JFK could do a better job, but not many of the others until we get back to Theodore Roosevelt.

Carter was actually tougher on the USSR than Reagan was. Guess who cut off grain exports to the USSR and who later reinstated them. There were many other instances.

Carter's problem was one of image. He looked weak. Reagan didn't. And I think that pretty much sums it up.

There's a difference between "making the world safe for democracy" and "making every nation safe for democracy."

JFK, Truman, Reagan, and Bush Sr. embody the former grand strategy. Bush Jr. and the neoconservatives embody the later world strategy.

And I think the later strategy is frankly, ridiculous.

Perhaps. JFK's rhethoric however, was thoroughly Wilsonian, not realist:

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

I am not a big fan of neo-conservative foreign policy - or anybody who acts as if we have unlimited resources, or worse that we should use war to pursue any moral aim short of matters of life and death.

As far as Carter is concerned, I have plenty of reason to believe his foreign policy was corrupt to the core, notably the nature of the private diplomacy he has been conducting decades later. In his own time though, he certainly did little of substance to challenge the image of utter fecklessness. Cutting of grain sales? The Moral Equivalent of War (MEOW)?

A President needs to talk tough, based on unquestionable principles, and be willing to back up that talk with serious action if necessary. I don't recall Carter doing anything more effective than pulling us out of the Moscow Olympics. The rhetoric alone of Ronald Reagan (and Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II) made a world of difference. By any normal standard, the Soviet Union *was* an evil empire.

Oh, I don't disagree with you Mark in general. The Presidency is about perception. In a democracy, a true leader must be a salesman, and Carter failed miserably in this respect. I'm just pointing out that, in action, he was actually tougher on the USSR than Reagan was.

Though JFK used Wilsonian rhetoric, his actual foreign policy followed more of a realist paradigm.

But I do definitely agree that the neoconservatives act as if the USA had the equivalent power to God almighty on the world stage. My biggest beef with Iraq has always been that we were too weak to pull it off. I thought that when we invaded, and I think that the events of the past few years have just proved my point.

On a related note, I think that the danger posed to the USA by the USSR throughout the Cold War simply illustrates just how much of a non-threat terrorists are to us today.

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