On May 16th, Kal Penn and I hosted a youth roundtable with about 20 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our conversation touched on issues of top concern including ways to expand volunteerism, LGBTQ equality, and the relationship between the federal government and the Church. While admittedly a small group, it was a reminder of the variety of viewpoints that can exist in any large organization.
One of the participants in the roundtable was Kristine Haglund of Boston. She’s currently the editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and maintains a popular blog, “By Common Consent.” Below she shares her thoughts about the roundtable:
“Have I Done Any Good In the World Today?” A popular Mormon song reminds members of the church that service and charity are fundamental duties of believers. One doesn’t have to look too far to find reports of Mormons visibly engaged in civic projects in their bright yellow shirts. Mormons are well-known for being highly organized, cheerful helpers in disaster relief and civic projects. They are also well-known for being politically conservative. An unlikely group for a meeting with the White House Office of Public Engagement, perhaps.
But there we were, about a dozen young (and young-ish) Mormons, talking about the kinds of civic engagement that could be the basis of collaboration with public agencies and other religious groups. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that young Mormons mostly care about the same issues as other young Americans: jobs, health care, the cost of higher education, the deployment of American troops overseas, GLBTQ rights, and the environment.
Although these concerns are shared with other young people, there are some peculiar valances for Mormons—since Mormons generally marry younger and have more children than the general population, they worry about having jobs that can support a family, rather than just a single person through their 20s and early 30s. They are more likely to be tuned into education issues than their peers, since they are likely to have children in public schools.
Another family-related issue that is especially salient for young Mormons is GLBTQ rights. Because of the Mormon Church’s very public stance on same sex marriage, young Mormons are more polarized over this issue than their peers. It’s important to know, though, that there is a wide range of opinions on the topic, even among believing and engaged young Latter-day Saints.
Another area of divergent opinion is on immigration issues—the Church has taken a fairly progressive position, and publicly articulated the principles that inform their stance. Nonetheless, significant numbers of conservative Mormons have dissented from the leadership, just as liberal Mormons did over California’s Proposition 8.
This diversity among Mormons belies the commonly-held stereotype of efficient, obedient, and uniformly conservative religionists. It was exciting to think about ways that working together on social issues where we have common ground can start to dilute that stereotype while, more importantly, building healthy families and the kinds of caring and connected communities we all want to live in.
Paul Monteiro is Deputy Associate Director for the Office of Public Engagement.