I found myself experiencing a bit of a dilemma last Sunday when a member of our bishopric read a letter from the First Presidency encouraging LDS Church members in Utah to exercise "their civic responsibility and privileges" by participating in political precinct caucus meetings that will be held this month (see LDS Newsroom article). This official counsel comes from men that I consider to be properly authorized to speak for God. Thus, I should carefully consider their admonition.
While some might read the First Presidency's statement to say, "Go to a political caucus meeting or be damned," I believe that reason and personal inspiration are required to determine how to honor any generalized prophetic counsel.
Some prophetic pronouncements are clear, unambiguous, and specifically as well as generally applicable for all people in all situations. For example, "Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery" (Matthew 19:18). But the vast majority of prophetic directives do not fall into this category.
Consider, for example, the 1833 revelation on health known as the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89). Recent church leaders have made it clear that church members must abstain from the use of tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, and illegal drugs, as well as the abuse of any addictive substance to be in good standing with respect to the Word of Wisdom.
But what should we make of verse 17 where it implies that corn, oats, and rye are for various animals but not for humans? Are you breaking the Word of Wisdom if you eat corn on the cob, oatmeal, or rye bread? And what about the counsel in verses 14 and 17 suggesting that wheat is to be the "staff of life" for humans, in light of the fact that the wheat commonly used today is a dramatically different substance than the wheat used in 1833? If gluten causes you problems, are you breaking the Word of Wisdom if you eat no wheat?
What about President Monson's June 2013 statement that "Now is the time for members and missionaries to come together, to work together, to labor in the Lord’s vineyard to bring souls unto Him."? Or his October 2012 statement that "we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable to respond to the call to serve [as a full-time missionary]."? How are these statements to be applied?
It seems obvious that most prophetic counsel requires both rational judgment and spiritual insight to be specifically and individually applied, so that "all these things are done in wisdom and order" (Mosiah 4:17). I believe this is also the case when the First Presidency "encourages" church members to attend political caucus meetings.
Utah's system of nominating political party officials and candidates at precinct caucus meetings and escalating conventions has been under fire lately by well funded politically powerful interests. But at present it appears that the system will likely endure in some form. At any rate, it remains unchanged this year.
The First Presidency's letter describes precinct caucus meetings as "a grassroots level of political involvement in Utah [that] are best served by a broad representation of Utah citizens." The Presidency also notes that those "who attend play a critical role in selecting candidates for public office."
For those that are interested, the Utah Democratic Party will hold its caucus meetings on Tuesday, March 18 at 6:30 PM and the Utah Republican Party will hold its meetings on Thursday, March 20 at 7:00 PM. You can see a full list of links to Utah's registered political parties here. Check your party's website to see whether/where your local caucus meeting will be held.
My problem is that I have entered a post partisan phase. At one time I was a staunch Republican. But when I found myself trying to defend some of my party's horrible politicians and policies I started to take a more critical view of the party and of the political process in general. When I looked across the aisle and saw Democratic apologists defending their party's awful politicians and policies I realized that there was a lot of the same kind of thing going on throughout the system.
The more I studied politics and separated what political actors really do from their stylistic and rhetorical approaches, the more it looked to me like all political actors (whether they believe it or not) were more of one kind — folks that get fulfillment by trading power over the lives of others — while the general citizenry were another kind — pawns in the political game. It looked to me like most of what partisans argued about boiled down to style and hyperbole rather than substantial differences in actions and results. The more I learned about how politics really works the less I wanted much to do with it.
I think that I really got on the road out of the GOP last time I attended a caucus meeting. Turnout that night was impressive. It soon became evident, however, that those that held individual liberty dear represented only a tiny minority of those present. Any that didn't enthusiastically support establishment candidates were quickly eliminated from vying to become delegates for the county or state conventions.
After watching the GOP for several more months I couldn't see how my views could ever be adequately represented by the party. I'm not like those sour grapes folks that whine that the party left them behind while their views remained unchanged. I think, rather, that as I became more clear on both my own views and the nature of the party I found too many irreconcilable differences to remain a member. Nor did I see a ready home for my views in any of the other parties. So I registered as an unaffiliated voter.
I have the utmost respect for those that know that their political party is deeply flawed and yet view it as the best avenue for them to see their political views represented in some measure. I have less respect for those that are well tuned to the defects of opposing parties while being largely blind to their own party's faults. (Maybe that's because I am abhorred that I was once among this latter group.)
My post partisan condition means that I have no neighborhood caucus meeting to attend this month. While some parties that do hold caucus meetings welcome unaffiliated voters, I cannot presently bring myself to work directly with those parties any more than I can bring myself to work with the GOP.
Others may legitimately come to different conclusions for themselves, but in my case I believe that the best way for me to have my political views represented is to vote with my feet and remain aloof from all political parties for now. Even after reviewing the First Presidency's counsel, I inwardly feel that this is the right approach for me. Thus, for the first time in many election cycles, I will not be attending a neighborhood caucus meeting this time around.
I pray for those that will be attending their caucus meetings this month, but I do so with limited faith. I'm afraid that I find myself agreeing with P.J. O'Rourke when he says that he has difficulty seeing God in politics, which appears rather to be the domain of "the Other Fellow."