Monday, November 4, 2013

"Are You A Liberal Mormon?" : an open letter to Joni Hilton

Dear Joni Hilton,

You recently wrote an article entitled "Are You A Liberal Mormon?" If your essay's title was a sincere question, then I can sincerely answer that, based on the definition you so kindly ascribed to the aforementioned religio-political group, no, I am not a Liberal Mormon.

In your article, you defined Liberal Mormons as those who "decided which aspects of our faith to accept or reject, from honoring the Sabbath to wearing less than modest clothing." According to you, Liberal Mormons (or Jack Mormons, which you have declared a suitable synonym) "do not attend the temple, they do not show up to help someone move, and they do not Home Teach or Visit Teach with regularity."

I can tell you with utmost candor that I have not merely "decided" which aspects of gospel doctrine to accept or reject. You wrote that "living in the grey -the fringe- takes little effort." You ascertained that this liberal life in the grey is a result of "laziness." I promise you that I wrestle with the incongruousness of my political and religious beliefs on a daily basis. If it had been a decision, I would have chosen to "accept" or "reject" and let my mind, heart and soul have a sojourn from turmoil. It would be great to relinquish my ambivalent thoughts to laziness. And besides, honoring the Sabbath and modest dress are not intellectual conundrums but rather simple tasks of obedience. I don't grapple with the existential appropriateness of wearing booty shorts to the beach.

I was married in the temple. I'll admit that I should attend the temple more frequently, but I'm willing to bet that most of the LDS populace could say the same, "liberal" or not. I have been known to show up to help people move from time to time, although I was unaware that this was an indicator of religious devotion. I assume you were using this as an example for charity work in general-and you've got me there. I could definitely be more charitable, and I could probably work on getting my Visiting Teaching up to 100%. How about you?

Look, Joni. I know you have received a lot of criticism for your article. I know that the online magazine wherein it was originally published has since deleted it from its website. I see that you have issued a public apology for the insensitivity of your words, and I'm sure that although you still believe in what you have written, you probably wish you hadn't displayed it in such a public format.

You see, Joni, I am actually on your side. When you wrote about "Liberal Mormons", you must not have understood the political connotation the term has adopted. Nowadays, a "Liberal Mormon" is one who identifies with a more liberal political ideology. They can also be known as Mormon Democrats or Mormon Liberals. This group of "fringe" Mormons may believe in things like a more universal health care system, less foreign intervention for self-interest and even (oh me oh my) the right for gay people to marry civilly. They may take issue with some cultural aspect of the church, such as delegating Jell-O a food group or thinking beards are unholy, but they do a pretty good job of separating these worldly laws from eternal principles. They are very different from "Jack Mormons".

I think you've been gravely misunderstood as a result of semantics. You've offended the non-conservative community of Mormons who identify with a different political worldview by equating "Jack Mormons" with "Liberals". I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you were not thinking politically at all. You couldn't have been, based on your article's definition of Liberal Mormons.

Lucky for you, being a Mormon Liberal has nothing to do with watching R-rated movies, drinking "tasty" iced tea, or wearing bikinis to the beach. It is not an "admittance of weakness" but an acceptance of the universality of God's love regardless of political standing. Having a non-conservative worldview is not "playing right into Satan's hands" by feeling "proud and superior". It's understanding vulnerability to Satan's power and fighting for our faith despite others telling us that we're unworthy.

You wrote that being a faithful member of the LDS religion means to "embrace every part of it," but I ask you who do you know that doesn't struggle, in some way? Isn't the focal point of our religion - of Christ's message- to recognize our imperfections while continually striving to be better?

I don't think it's a "twist on faith" to believe that God doesn't expect us to understand every part of His plan. And I really don't think you do either, Joni.

We should all help people move more often. We should all attend the temple more regularly. We should all be more submissive and humble before God.

Even you, Joni.

After all, no one is perfect, right?


Steph C., a Mormon Liberal