“You know you’re denying the Christ by supporting gay marriage, right?”
I couldn’t believe my ears (well, to be more precise, my eyes, because the attack was written rather than spoken). Was my friend and visiting teaching companion really saying this to me? Because I had announced I thought people should be allowed, under the law, to marry as they choose? Did she really condemn me to perdition because I’m a democrat?
She wasn’t the only one. Family members, close friends, people I love deeply have taken various degrees of offense at my political persuasion, causing contentious arguments, years of grudges, and frustration. Apparently being a Democrat is worse than just about any other character flaw I can muster. I’ve been emotionally devastated many times while trying to strike up a deep, though pleasant, political discussion, and eventually have come to the conclusion that ‘pleasant’ and ‘political discussion’ is an oxymoron.
But within Mormon culture, this seems so uncharacteristic and strange. We are commanded to be one, to love one another. Our history is riddled with intolerance and even extermination because of our new and unique beliefs; we know exactly how it feels to be ridiculed, despised, and exiled for being different. We even pride ourselves on being a ‘peculiar people’, yet we have no room for political peculiarities within our own society. How is it we have come to this point where politics can’t even be discussed with our LDS friends without contention, and that individual political affiliations are more dividing than cruelty, abuse, or vice?
I have a hypothesis these differences which divide us aren’t differences at all. After all, are we that different? Our goals are certainly the same: we all want healthy, loving, and smart families. We want to serve others and follow the Savior. Within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we want to keep the commandments and encourage others to as well. It’s not a difference of goals or virtues that is dividing us. So what is it?
I decided to talk to as many friends as I could. What drives us to vote the way we do or hold certain political beliefs (conservative/liberal, republican/democrat, etc.) when we come from such similar religious backgrounds? If our end goal is the same, why is it that we are often so different?
It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped to coax political viewpoints from my friends and family. The divisions are so fierce and so contentious that most of us just don’t want to discuss it, period. Another friend of mine said, “The only people who will answer you are the people who think like you,” and she was fairly right. Because my friends know I’m a democrat, the republicans were woefully silent. It really made me sad, because I genuinely love them and wanted to hear their opinions! But no matter the sample size of my research (okay okay, I admit, my solitary Facebook plea), I’ve been able to start piecing together a little data and figure out what our differences really are: priorities! It’s not a matter of difference, it’s a matter of priorities. Again, our goals are the same, for our country as well as for ourselves. Just like we are all striving for eternal happiness, we all want good jobs, safety and security, good health and education, happiness. We are simply approaching these grandiose goals from different starting points, with different experiences and different priorities, that move us either left, right, or center.
So I started changing my questions: what are your political priorities that drive you to vote any which way? I was quite pleased with the results. Republicans mostly said their top priorities were economy, job growth, government size and overreach, and security (both homeland and foreign). Democrats typically responded that their highest priorities were environment, education, civil rights and individual liberties, and health care. Independents and smaller party affiliates like libertarians only further proved my hypothesis, as they had much more unique priorities to each individual (prioritizing things like scientific research or immigration reform), rather than the very similar responses given by Republicans or Democrats.
Nobody wants weak borders, sick veterans, high unemployment, expensive welfare programs, or a lost and angry country. We truly do want the same things. The trouble comes that we are a democracy/republic hybrid (which is a genius system I support fully—don’t get me wrong) that’s driven by two major political parties. When voting time comes, we are forced into one of two paths. None of us can vote perfectly line-item or find a candidate who matches 100% of our ideals. In recent years, we’ve been forced to choose between the environment and the economy, security, education, civil rights, and government overreach. We are left to prioritize the importance of things like health care and infrastructure. Rather than being asked what we want, we have to choose what we want most, understanding we can’t have it all. You might as well ask us to prioritize which of the commandments we will follow and which we will be forced to ignore! It’s a gut-wrenching, terrifically difficult decision eating up way too much emotional and mental power, and once we’ve finally decided and cast our vote, we’ve convinced ourselves we made the right decision. The dividing point occurs when we simultaneously convince ourselves all other decisions are therefore wrong.
But if we go back to that voting booth and the months of agonizing debates, propaganda, and research, and try to look through the eyes of another with different concerns and experiences, we can begin to see how they might end up checking a different box than us. After all, can we expect the urban mother of three kids, one with special needs, one gay, to have the same priorities and needs as the steel worker whose job was just outsourced to China? Can both people be good and smart and doing what they think is best for their families and selves? Of course. Can we love others and try to peer through their looking glass? Can we have discussions about political priorities which are pleasant? I hope so. When we genuinely try to understand what is causing our divisions, we begin to knit back together and heal relationships and love again. Of all our priorities, needs, goals, hopes, and dreams, the greatest of all is love.
About the author:
Lisa Sheffer is a mom of four busy children, who loves cooking, gardening, singing, and teaching piano. She is passionate about her faith and politics. She and her husband, awesome kids, twelve chickens, and one dog live in Cache Valley, Utah.
* Photo credit: Diari La Veu, Photopin.com *