Wednesday, 29 October 2008

"Latter-day Saints as Full Participants in Community Life"

my friend bethany gave this talk in church on sunday. it was really powerful, and particularly salient because my best friend growing up, aimee, was in town. aimee introduced me to mormonism. we are, and always have been, as different as the night and the day, the moon and the sun. we have argued much over the years. the first arguement i remember was about the right of americans to burn their flag. it was a real whopper.

it was fun to be in the meeting together and hear this, because it really touched on the stuff that unifies aimee and i. i think it is the same stuff that makes me proud to be american, even during our most embarrassig moments.

with bethany's permission i am posting much of her talk. she gave me the notes. i am going to try and turn some talking points into prose. if you bear with this post, i am quite certain you will find it edifying. and frankly, i don't think you have to be mormon for this counsel to apply, or to feel the truthfulness of what she shared.

bethany is 8 months pregnant with her second child.


As my belly has grown, so has my obsession with the presidential election. The day I found out I was pregnant was the first day I volunteered to register voters in Pennsylvania. Up to that point, I had never been actively involved in any political campaign.

As Americans, we are just 9 days away from choosing a new leader of our country. As a family, we are just a few weeks away from welcoming another child into the world. The two things that have been most on my heart: pregnancy and politics. These may seem completely unrelated: one is so very intimate and personal and the other is public. Then I found a scripture that unites the two: The first piece of counsel God gives Adam and Eve, Genesis 1:28 "And God blessed them and God said unto them be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth."

We are commanded here to ring children into the world, but God cares about what type of world we bring them in to. We are to replenish the Earth.

Replenish: 1) to make full or complete again; 2)To inspire or nourish.

We live in a fallen world, we replenish the earth through our creative ideas, our involvements, and acts of goodness.

Church counsel

Because Heavenly Father cares about the world we live in and bring children into, he has urged us, through his prophets, to be engaged in the world.

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness. For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. (D&C 58: 27-28)

Nephi teaches us that "[we] are free to ACT for themselves and not be acted UPON!"

First Presidency's letter from this fall

"…We urge members of the Church to be full participants in political, governmental, and community affairs. Members of the Church are under special obligations to seek out and then uphold those leaders who are wise, good, and honest (see D&C 98:10).

Mormons are not to be removed from the world, but fully engaged in making it a better place.

My experience

Earlier this year, reading so much, but not doing much; same time we were hoping to conceive. I was a passive observer rather than an active participant. I decided this wasn't good enough. My first action was driving to Philadelphia (with a friend, Holly) to register voters in PA (the day we found out we were pregnant).

It started work that has carried me through the last 7 months. I have made phone calls to other people of faith in swing states; canvassing door to door in Virginia (with teabelly); work in campaign field offices; etc. It hasn't always gone as planned. I have struggled; made mistakes; watched Simone, my 2 year old daughter run into the homes of the people I am trying to talk about voting with; and sweated in the HEAT and been soaked in the rain. But it has been empowering. I have helped 1st time voters find their polling place. Registered people who have never voted; Exchanged lots of interesting ideas and shared inspiring conversations. There is an energy and passion that comes through working for a common good that is felt doing this work of democracy. There is a wonderful, inspiring energy. I have felt proud to be an America as I have taken advantage of our opportunity to fully participate in our democracy.

I asked myself, why didn't I get involved earlier?...why haven't I done more of this?...

Maybe many of us have asked similar questions.

Barriers to becoming FULL PARTICIPANTS in political and community affairs

· It's easier to complain about the current situation and things that we don't like than to actually become involved in creating something new and better

It is easy to complain about what we don't like. It takes much more energy to move from complaint and protest to positive work! I have been learning to become a problem solver rather than merely good complainer.

· It can be incredibly challenging to find the time

She shared lots of personal stories here, that i don't think i can create a fair narrative about...but i think you get the picture of lots of demands, why add something else. i am just one person, it isn't going to matter...

· We don't know enough

Knocking on doors, gave me pit in my stomach…I don't know everything… I must know more. Then i was reminded of the writings of Paul Loeb, in Soul of a Citizen: "Eloquence is desirable to be sure, but it's not as important as kindness, concern, and a straightforward declaration of belief."

We are going to live with a a permanent insufficiency of knowledge, but that does not mean that our thoughts and ideas should not be shared.

· We can be gripped by fear

It can be scary and intimidating, but there is great joy and satisfaction in participating.

Gordon B. Hinckley, former Prophet of the Mormon Church, who won numerous awards and recognition for his involvements in civic affairs taught:

"Now, I want to say to you, and I say it with a plea in my heart, get involved. Get involved on the side of righteousness and truth and decency and sobriety and virtue. You, and others like you, are the great hope of this world. …

"The problem with most of us is that we are afraid. We want to do the right thing, but we are troubled by fears and the world drifts about us. …

" 'Be not afraid, only believe.' I commend to you these wonderful words of the Lord as you think of your responsibilities and opportunities" (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 128–29).

· We don't believe we can really make an impact

We live in a dominant culture that teaches that nothing that we can do really matters. We don't have the capacity or responsibility to create change. Things are outside of our control. We watch political scandals; wonder if our votes are counted; fear our elected officials are their for their own gain; etc.

Frances Moore Lappe, who writes about a citizen democracy: "Cynicism is easy. Honest hope, as opposed to wishful thinking, demands hard work"


Art of democracy requires: Dialogue, compromise, mediation, reflection. The art of citizenship has to be practiced and learned.

We best serve our children not by hiding from the world, but by giving them models of ways to live with courage and integrity….the more they see us responding to the world's problems, the more they gain a sense of hope and purposefulness.

We must teach our children an ethic of connection, rather than one of retreat.

Have genuine respect for people and the democratic process

While I was working one night late at the Utah State Capitol, a group of protesters gathered to advocate for their right to marry whom they chose. There was a bill proposed to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. These people gathered to oppose this bill. I walked out of my office to do something and was surprised when I saw a Boy Scout leader with his troop. I was nervous. I thought this could be a really bad moment for all involved. The beliefs of the two groups were quite different. As she passed by she overheard a scout ask what was going on. The Boy Scout leader responded: "I don't agree with the position they are taking, but i am proud to live in a country where than can voice their opinion."

I believe this Boy Scout leader embodied the word of Booker T. Washington when he said: "I will permist no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him". In all of our political discourse it is imperative that we not become bitter and angry. Political engagement should inspire us…not degrade us. President Hinckley captures my thoughts on this perfectly:

The building of public sentiment begins with a few earnest voices. I am not one to advocate shouting defiantly or shaking firsts and issuing threats in the faces of legislators. But I am one who believes that we should earnestly and sincerely and positively express our convictions to those given the heavy responsibility of making and enforcing our laws. …Let our voices be heard. I hope they will not be shrill voices, but I hope we shall speak with such conviction that those to whom we speak shall know of the strength of our felling and the sincerity of our effort.

"… Teach those for whom you are responsible the importance of good civic manners. Encourage them to become involved, remembering in public deliberations that the quiet voice of substantive reasoning is more persuasive than the noisy, screaming voice of protest. In accepting such responsibilities our people will bless their communities, their families, and the Church" (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 131).

Not stuck in one position

Good citizenship requires one to remain centered in values, but not fixed in a position. The Savior has said, "He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me" (3 Nephi 11:29). Yet even as we feel to speak the word of God with boldness, we must pray to be filled with the Holy Ghost (see Acts 4:29, 31). We should never confuse boldness with Satan's counterfeit: overbearance (see Alma 38:12). True disciples speak with quiet confidence, not boastful pride. We can and must be humble, listen empathetically, and learn to become skillful peacemakers. Handling conflict with integrity, respect, and sincerity, can often turn disagreement into an opportunity for mutual learning, trust-building, and resolution.

· Have a positive, solutions oriented approach

We must adopt a solutions oriented approach. Move from complaint and protest to positive work: its easy to cry out what we don't like! Learn to become problem solvers rather than merely good complainers.

· Don't become too weighed down or overwhelmed

In graduate school, I wanted to fix all of the social problems, pain and suffering I saw in the world. I asked my friend Dominique to give me a blessing one day when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed. The words of the blessing ring loud in my ears:

"You don't need to save the worldChrist already has."

We do all that we can, and then have faith that Christ will redeem all of us individually and collectively.


Many things that we can do in this last week before the election (vote, make phone calls, help get other people to the polls) BUT…

"Democracy is a not an election, but a culture….a culture of participation, rights, justice, and opportunities for all individuals."

I encourage you to do as Thoreau counseled, "Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence." Then once you do this, there are many ways that to engage in the community in the coming months and years ahead.

George Q. Cannon, one of the earliest apostles taught: "God has chosen his people, the Latter-day Saints, to solve the knotty problems that have troubled the brains and afflicted the children of men for so many centuries."

We are blessed to have the Holy Ghost that inspires us and magnifies our efforts.

We are blessed to have the example of Jesus Christ who sought to heal both individuals and society.

We are blessed to be loved by a Heavenly Father who cares deeply for us, our families, and the world we live in.

Its my hope that each of us will pray to know how we can find joy and meaning in becoming full participants in our communities

So that we can replenish the earth and bring about Zion.

and just to punctuate this beautiful point with a flash of hollywood; teabelly adds:

No comments: