TABITHA:“As citizens we have the privilege and duty of electing office holders and influencing public policy. Participation in the political process affects our communities and nation today and in the future. We urge Latter-day Saints to be active citizens by registering, exercising their right to vote, and engaging in civic affairs.
We also urge you to spend the time needed to become informed about the issues and candidates you will be considering.” (First Presidency 2016 Letter)
In the United States, some version of this announcement is often read over the pulpit in LDS congregations shortly before Election Day. Since it’s election season (including the run up for presidential caucuses and primaries), I want to share a few of my experiences about how “becoming informed about issues and candidates” has lead me to positions that frequently put me in the minority of my family and church friends.
The church’s most recent statement on immigration includes the following points:
- We follow Jesus Christ by loving our neighbors. The Savior taught that the meaning of “neighbor” includes all of God’s children, in all places, at all times.
- We recognize an ever-present need to strengthen families. Families are meant to be together. Forced separation of working parents from their children weakens families and damages society…
- Public officials should create and administer laws that reflect the best of our aspirations as a just and caring society…
My parents were instrumental in helping a family escape from Vietnam in the late ‘70s. My father had served in the army during the Vietnam war and had made many close friendships with the native people. Years after the war’s close, he received word that some of those Vietnamese friends were in a refugee camp and in desperate need of help. My parents didn’t have much in the way of financial means. Still, they were able to gather enough friends to contribute money and pro-bono legal work to bring six members of an extended family to the United States.
A month ago, I was home visiting my sick father, and three members from this Vietnamese family visited at the same time. I finally heard firsthand some of their escape story–how they paid a smuggler who didn’t show up, how they gathered more money to pay another smuggler, and how forty smuggled people crammed onto a boat for ten, enduring several days of stormy weather at sea. The youngest was ten-years-old child, sent by his parents who couldn’t pay their own way. The images my father’s friends relayed of desperate refugee camps, children being killed when schools and hospitals were targeted in war, and exhausted families separated from each other at the US border motivate me to advocate politically for more compassion in government and for policies that provide resources for vulnerable immigrants. In my advocacy, I keep in mind the second great commandment to love our neighbor. This pushes me to keep going.
I have been firmly pro-choice since I was able to understand what “abortion” meant. This is unusual for a child with conservative parents, but I see it as in-line with the LDS Church’s stance on abortion, which considers abortion sin-free in certain circumstances. The official Church policy on abortion allowances are when:
- Pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or
- A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy, or
- A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.
Despite these exceptions, many church members think all abortions should be banned (including a state senator in my stake who tries every legislative session to pass legislation to outlaw abortion). These views contradict the standing of the Church.
It has never made sense to me to put the needs of a fetus above those of a living, breathing woman. When I say this in LDS circles, I’m usually met with raised eyebrows, at which point I often talk about my Aunt Susan.
As I grew up, I was told she had died in childbirth in the early 1970s and that her husband eventually remarried and moved on with his life. When I was living with another aunt one summer during college, she told me the real story. Aunt Susan had died from complications of a perforated uterus after an illegal abortion her abusive husband had insisted she receive. If safe and legal abortion had been available, she would have lived and she might have eventually left him. I fight for safe and legal abortions in honor of my Aunt Susan, and all women who have needed one.
LGBTQ+ Rights and Marriage Equality
My Church thinks of itself as pro-family. I take the church at its word: the family is of God. I just can’t accept that the only acceptable family is a man and a woman with children, especially considering Mormon history.
I once asked a bishop after an interview what would need to happen if my neighbor friend and her wife wanted to be baptized. Would they need to divorce and break up their family, including their three children, to be baptized? He blushed, stammered, and then softly said, “Yeah, probably.” I responded with how absurd that sounds, considering we just had a lesson about being loving parents and working as a team.
My state has had legal same gender marriage for over 10 years, and I have yet to have any kind of negative consequence to my marriage. Instead, we have wonderful neighbors with children who are as silly and precocious as my own. I consider it my moral duty to elect people who are pro-family, who respect all families, regardless of how each is constituted. These elected officials have an effect on my community and country now and in the future. This is what my church asks of me.
My family takes voting seriously. My maternal grandmother loved to talk of her mother’s activism as a suffragette. Grandma M recalled people spitting at them when, at age 7, she went with her mother to vote in 1920. My parents voted in every election when I lived at home, often going into the booth with a list of their researched choices. Those indirect lessons of civic participation sunk in deeply and keep me passionate about being informed about elections and issues.
I have spent a lifetime agreeing to disagree with most of my family and LDS friends politically. We do it with grace and respect, recognizing that each of us is trying our best to live up to our civic duty by supporting policies and candidates we hope will make both the country and the world a better place.
The Sisters Quorum would appreciate hearing your stories. Feel free to comment on this post or see our Submissions page.