Wednesday, August 29, 2012

In Which I Verbally Vomit...


I grow weary of extremes.

I like to walk down the middle of the road. I like looking at the scenery on either side of me. Sometimes I venture to the right because I like something I see over there, and then there are times when I stroll over to the left because something I see there resonates and makes sense. And in the middle of the road where I walk, I find a comfortable, beautiful blending of the two. I suspect there are a lot of people like me, but we are not often the voices that speak the loudest.

Being a Mormon now, a faithful, church-going, calling-holding member is a very interesting thing. A great majority of the body of the Church is politically conservative. That leaves the minority defined as liberal. But what of those of us who stroll down the middle and like it there? Sometimes it feels like a very lonely place, because opinions tend to be so incredibly polarized. And the implication is often that if your views aren’t completely committed to either one side or the other, you’re an idiot. Or a faithless rebel. Or a bigot. 

When the early Church members made their trek west to settle in Utah, it wasn’t as though that had been everyone’s first dream. I know, let’s move all of us, many of whom will die, across this barren wasteland and settle in a really ugly place with a large body of useless salt water smack in the middle.  (Which is now very pretty, actually, because they planted a lot of stuff—thank you, ancestors.) They were driven out of the U.S. That’s why they left. 

They were murdered—children, even—tortured, raped, robbed, their homes burned to the ground on top of them, their temples desecrated, their printing presses destroyed, their belongings pawed through and stolen after they were forced to flee. And there was an “Extermination Order” in Missouri, which made it legal to kill a Mormon. They were treated in a way—in the United States—that would spark horror in the minds and hearts of most of us today. 

In 2000, my editor asked me if I’d be interested in writing a Civil War series with an LDS perspective. So I wrote about the war and placed one of my characters—an LDS convert—in the middle of it, along with parallel stories about other family members and friends in different parts of the country. I also wrote about a family of slaves who were literate, and their struggles throughout the process.  I dared to include a bi-racial marriage and a whole lot of drama throughout four volumes.

The research I did, which was extensive and exhausting, led me to some impressions that still stick with me. The first was that literacy is the key to freedom. How do you enslave a large portion of a population? You don’t allow them education in any way, shape or form. Another impression that remains with me is an understanding of the bitterness and weariness most of the early LDS church members felt toward the country that had forced them out because of religious intolerance.  

These are but two of the lessons I took away from the experience, and they’ve come back to roost with me in a frustrating way this election year. To preface this, I need to explain that I am an unapologetic member of my faith. I also appreciate the “liberal” Joanna Brooks, author of Book of Mormon Girl, and the viewpoint she represents—most of which I agree with. She’s well-spoken and bright, and I like her. She says many things that resonate with me very deeply. 

In writing the Civil War series, I was steeped in research about bigotry, and to be an unapologetic member of an organization that is now characterized as “bigoted,” I find horrifying. It does not sit well with me. As much as I would like to distance myself from that concept in any way, shape or form, I stand by my testimony of my faith and draw strength from personal, spiritual experiences I’ve had that keep me attending church week after week.  

But frankly, what I do care if two people who love each other are legally married? I don’t. How, then, to reconcile that with religion, one you absolutely cannot reject or deny, or risk lying to yourself? The answer is, for me, that I stay prayerful, and close to a God who loves his children. I remain patient and watchful, and take comfort in the fact that He is very much aware of what we do down here and that all questions are answered in time. And when I listen to people who profess to be Christians, both in my church and without, who are so incredibly hateful in their speech and actions, I remind myself that we are not perfect. That my testimony of my faith is not based on its members. We are, however, here to learn and grow and love. (Kumbaya, I know. I’ve already heard it.) But Christ, during his recorded lifetime, preached a gospel of love, not hate.  In fact, the only time he was angry was when people were using His Father’s house to cheat. This tells me that despite what we may believe, collectively or individually, about people whose lives are different than our own, we damn well better be nice about it. 

And as to the other thing—the weary early Church member thing—I feel that in spades. Now no, I certainly have not been cruelly driven from my home by a stampede of lawless ignorants. Nor have I personally felt the barbs of prejudice because I am a Mormon. But wow, I’m tired. Tired of reading news reports whose authors don’t even bother to get the facts straight. (It’s not a Steak, it’s a Stake, and it represents a geographical collection of Wards, or congregations—again organized geographically. Kind of like schools within a school district. A Stake President is not a position of extreme authority over the entire body of the Church. Women in the Church are not kept barefoot in the kitchen. We can read and have college degrees and were voting in our church meetings before the rest of the country’s women were constitutionally allowed to. And maybe if you would like to know more about us, you should ask someone who is actually a member, not a professor of a student who once was, or a friend of a friend who used to have a Mormon neighbor.)

My issue of Time Magazine came in the mail with Mit Romney’s face on it, talking about how his mind works, and it was all I could do to bring it in the house. I just didn’t want to read anything else about how odd we are, or how imperfect our LDS history is, the mistakes we’ve made, or the incongruity between being a religion and a capitalistic “money making empire.”

And because Mit Romney is the Republican candidate and a Mormon, the two have become inextricably linked, in many minds. Which is frustrating for me, because the Republican Party is not The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Church leadership repeatedly makes public statements about its stance as politically neutral. On Facebook, on the Church website, and from the pulpit. Do many of our LDS ideals fall in line with conservative principles? Certainly. But…wait for it…there are also gospel principles to be found on the left side of the road. 

Speaking in sweeping generalities, I like the compassionate vibe I feel from the Democratic Party. There’s a level of love and acceptance within it that I find, on the surface at least, lacking on the Right. Still speaking in the most general of terms and in relation to the Republican Party, I’ve seen the value of self-reliance, of gaining an education and relying on one’s own efforts, intellect and abilities to make a better life for one’s family. The level of self-esteem that grows from these accomplishments is visible, vital and crucial, and I’ve seen it work to the betterment of people’s lives, specifically single moms I had the opportunity to work with some years ago as they earned their GEDs and climbed out of the “system.” 

As an LDS writer in a tightly-knit community of fellow LDS writers, I’ve found several similarities among many of us who walk down the middle of the road. J.Scott Savage said once that he is more liberal than most of his LDS friends, and more conservative than most of his friends who are not LDS. This holds very true for me, as well. I have a barrage of extremism on either side of the political aisle assaulting me when I log on to Facebook. I. Am. So. Tired. Of. Political. Messages. On. Facebook. I have news for you, my friends. Republicans do not hate gay people. Democrats are not Satan.

Last election year, a fellow writer and friend of mine, Annette Lyon, posted a commentary on her blog proclaiming her blood to be “purple,” or rather a blending of red and blue. This rang so true to me I felt emotional about it. It’s ok to see both sides of an issue. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, or spineless, or unprincipled. It means…you see both sides of an issue. I believe things are very rarely all black or all white. I suspect those with personalities opposite mine (I’m a Myers-Briggs ENFP, because I know you were wondering) would argue with me on that point. 

And so as I continue to peruse Facebook and see links to articles about Mormons, and memes depicting both Romney and Obama as horned devils, I console myself with this thought: 2013 is not an election year, and we’re almost there! Praise whatever deity you worship! Or not. :-)

9 comments:

Jenny Moore said...

This is so well-written, Nancy. Thank you for showing that people don't have to be one or the other. I think about this a lot--and you really hit the nail right on the head. You're amazing!

Marion Jensen said...

Love this post. I think too often we treat politics like sports. We pick one side and then stick to it with blind tenacity.

Karlene said...

I'm from a long generational line of Mormons who live outside Utah. And who are all Democrats. And they practically disowned me when I decided to become a Republican because how could a "good Mormon" ever be a Republican?

But guess what? After they got over it, about 2 seconds later, it hasn't been an issue. We still love each other and have polite conversations about politics.

Brett Nordquist said...

I always enjoy reading your thoughts as they are always insightful. In Seattle, I lean right to nearly all my non LDS friends but lean to the left of most those I meet each Sunday. It makes for an interesting balance. Really good post, Nancy.

Annette Lyon said...

Yes! You said it so much better than I did in my purple post. (Thanks for linking to it!)

I've blocked a few people on FB because of their constant political rants, and I'm *this* close to blocking some relatives. But they're family, so I keep them there, hoping that when the election is over, it'll stop.

I'm more purple today than I was during the last presidential election. Wishing more than ever that we had a 3rd party there. The only 3rd party that has any clout is the Tea Party, not something I agree with, as going even more to the Right than the Republicans isn't the answer, IMO.

Romney being on the ticket makes it even harder right now.

And for the record, I think Joanna Brooks is awesome.

(Like you said once, the similarities between us are almost freaky.)

Nancy said...

Nancy,

I love this. Although I am not a member of the LDS community, I do have a deep respect for some of the beliefs, especially when it comes to good works, loving your neighbor and a deep commitment to family. I was welcomed as a visitor many years ago, and have some very fond memories of that time.

I love your term middle of the road. That applies to all of us. The world is not always black and white, there are so many gray areas, and gray is where I feel the normal person is hanging out. Do I personally believe in for instance, abortion? No, not for me, but if the mother's life is at risk, or it's rape or incest, yes I believe it to be okay in that circumstance, therefore not a yes or no question, but a conditional one.

There is a word in the vocabulary that I try to never use, and the word is hate....such a harsh word. I believe that Christ does not have the ability to hate. When we see those protestors at military funerals and things, people are trying to credit him with words he would never say. Obviously, he loves all of us sinners alike, and gave us the ultimate sacrifice.

My next door neighbor loves to have cocktail parties, and she is the kindest sweetest person I know. Some would say she is not a Christian because she, like me, enjoys doing things like that. She also goes to church every Sunday and is in a women's Bible study group. Some pentecostal ministers or evangelists would say we're both going to Hell for that, but we know we're not, because we're good people, and God loves us. So believe me when I tell you, it's just not the LDS community. Try growing up in the Bible Belt of the south, dear.

I'm on the fence about who I am going to vote for, but I will tell you, as a fellow Christian, that I am okay and will support my Christian Mormon President if he is elected. I think he is traveling in the middle of the road with you, Nancy.

Love,

Nancy

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Nancy, you are so right, and thanks for sharing your perspective! Our experiences are probably so much more similar than we realize. And enjoy your cocktail parties with your cute neighbor!

And friends, thank you so much for your comments. Politics and religion. The two most sensitive topics and I threw them together in the same post!

Stephanie Black said...

It's so sad that politics have become so vicious. Why can't we discuss ideas instead of assuming that anyone who doesn't agree with us politically must be evil/stupid/bigoted/pick your favorite insult. It IS possible for good people to have very different ideas on what constitutes good government. I think both sides want the same result--a peaceful prosperous nation. The fact that there is disagreement on how to get there doesn't make either side Satan.

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Exactly, Steph! And there are insults aplenty, aren't there? IMO, it's all about balance.