"I urge you with all the capacity that I have to reach out in a duty that stands beyond the requirements of our everyday lives; that is, to stand strong, even to become a leader in speaking up in behalf of those causes which make our civilization shine and which give comfort and peace to our lives. You can be a leader. You must be a leader, as a member of this Church, in those causes for which this Church stands. Do not let fear overcome your efforts." --President Gordon B. Hinckley
The inspiring quote by President Hinckley graces the website of the new organization, Mormon Women for Ethical Government. This organization born in February 2017 from the efforts of Sharlee Mullins Glenn, is a welcome addition to our faith community. It seeks to mobilize Mormon women to advocate for ethical government, using strictly nonviolent, civil means: “Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG) is a nonpartisan group dedicated to the ideals of decency, accountability, transparency, and justice in governing.” That’s terrific! As Sheri Dew once said, “I believe that the moment we learn to unleash the full influence of converted, covenant-keeping women, the kingdom of God will change overnight.” (Women and the Priesthood, p. 163). I completely agree, and to witness Mormon women beginning to see themselves as potentially influential political actors is an incredible step forward! Can you imagine, for example, what would happen to Utah politics if more Mormon women stepped forward to set the political agenda and to run for office? The Utah Women in Leadership Project (UWLP) at Utah Valley University and the Women’s Leadership Institute have events to help train women—and let’s admit it, largely Mormon women--to step into these roles, as well. And Neylan McBaine’s Better Days 2020 campaign to celebrate Utah women’s suffrage might well be seen as an important adjunct to these efforts, and includes an effort to rename Utah streets to recognize figures such as Emmeline B. Wells and Martha Hughes Cannon. Zion in her beauty is beginning to rise . . .
Enough of my daydreams; let’s return to MWEG. I’m very interested in the rise of this group, and felt to familiarize myself with it: the MWEG website was my first stop. A perusal of MWEG’s website at this snapshot in time (early April 2017) shows that its current focus is on opposing the recently proposed strictures on immigration, as well as promoting laws that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns. It also appears to oppose revision of the Affordable Care Act, has called for the resignation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, and desires further investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. On their FAQs page, with regard to whether they consider themselves an anti-Trump group, MWEG answers, “Well, you’ll never hear us say that outright, but it would be disingenuous of us to pretend that we are not part of the resistance. Like millions of Americans, we are aghast at the current state of affairs in our great nation. We refuse to normalize or accept behavior, rhetoric, or legislation that disregards the rule of law, the core principles of decency and honor, and basic human rights.” (https://www.mormonwomenforethicalgovernment.org/faqs/ ; accessed 5 April 2017)
Now, you might say, “Hmmm, these seems like MWEG is aligning itself with the more liberal end of the political spectrum,” and that does seem a fair description, despite the fact that MWEG self-describes as non-partisan. There is nothing inherently wrong with that at all—though, of course, given that 45.5% of Utah voters voted Republican in the election, that would seem to leave out quite a few Mormon women who might not see themselves as part of the “resistance” to Donald Trump: in fact, they may have actually voted for him. According to CNN exit polls from November 2016, Trump won among all Utah women (41% Trump to 32% Clinton), and even won (barely) among white, college graduate Utah women voters (34%-33%). Those Mormon women who would not see themselves as part of the resistance are not some small minority, by any means. Would MWEG’s tent be large enough for them?
Well, one might respond, perhaps MWEG, given enough time, could eventually create a large enough tent to include Mormon women across the political spectrum. Perhaps MWEG is starting with positions that are more to the liberal side, but then at some point would have to embrace the fact that the Church holds some pretty clear stances on certain issues that might be at odds with a more purely liberal stance. The “M” in MWEG surely actually means something, as the President Hinckley quote exhorts—“you must be a leader in those causes for which this Church stands.” Right?
This is where I landed in March when I first heard of MWEG, taking a look at its website, wishing the young organization well and feeling its founding was a real step ahead for LDS women. Of course any organization would start with some growing pains, but surely MWEG would wind up “being a leader in those causes for which this Church stands.” However, I then had the opportunity to ask some questions, and receive responses, from MWEG’s founder. The more I asked questions, the more I began feeling uneasy. I did not want to feel uneasy, because I have great respect for MWEG’s founder personally and for what MWEG could be, so I asked more questions. My unease did not abate.
My purpose in writing this essay is not to drag MWEG down, because I am thrilled it exists. My purpose, rather, is to point out that are some problematic dilemmas facing MWEG, and to offer one person’s view on those. It is my hope that members of MWEG will take up these issues and work them out in a way that augments MWEG’s ability to do good in our fallen world. As Elder Christofferson has said in our most recent general conference, “The motivation for raising the warning voice is love—love of God and love of fellowman. To warn is to care . . . [and should] always [be] rooted in love.” Now I know, with Elder Christofferson, that “Sometimes those who raise a warning voice are dismissed as judgmental.” I apologize in advance to anyone offended by what I intend as a statement of personal unease rooted in love and in sincere hope for MWEG’s success.
There are two main reasons for my unease. First, MWEG insists that there is a strict divide between “ethics” and “morals,” and it is only interested in the first, not the second. If you thought MWEG would assist you in articulating a moral stance in the public square consonant with the Church’s position on a particular issue, it turns out you would be mistaken. Second, though I have been told MWEG has a working group on the issue, there is nothing on MWEG’s website at the time of this writing that suggests the organization advocates the cause of religious liberty, despite the fact that the Church has repeatedly requested its members to stand up for this principle in the public square and in the political arena. Let’s examine each of these two issues in turn.
Ethics and Morals
On their website, MWEG states that its standard is, “Is it legal? Is it ethical?” And if the answer to both questions is no, MWEG will set itself in opposition. Now the standard of “Is it legal?” is a good standard, for it poses a question that can be answered through our judicial system and also through corrective legislative action. The standard of “Is it ethical?” is not as susceptible to answer.
What is ethics? MWEG offers a definition of ethics based upon the article, Manuel Velasquez, Claire Andre, Thomas Shanks, and Michael J. Meyer (1996) "Thinking Ethically: A Framework for Moral Decision Making." Issues in Ethics 7, no. 1. The article is from on online journal sponsored by the Jesuit Santa Clara University; unfortunately, one cannot access the original article from its site, but one can find a small synopsis here. MWEG excerpts this particular quote from that article: “Ethics refers to well-founded standards . . . that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues. Ethics, for example, refers to those standards that impose the reasonable obligations to refrain from rape, stealing, murder, assault, slander, and fraud. Ethical standards also include those that enjoin virtues of honesty, compassion, and loyalty. And, ethical standards include standards relating to rights, such as the right to life, the right to freedom from injury, and the right to privacy. Such standards are adequate standards of ethics because they are supported by consistent and well-founded reasons.”
The rest of the online synopsis avers what ethics is not:
“[B]eing ethical is clearly not a matter of following one's feelings. A person following his or her feelings may recoil from doing what is right. In fact, feelings frequently deviate from what is ethical. Nor should one identify ethics with religion. Most religions, of course, advocate high ethical standards. Yet if ethics were confined to religion, then ethics would apply only to religious people. But ethics applies as much to the behavior of the atheist as to that of the devout religious person. Religion can set high ethical standards and can provide intense motivations for ethical behavior. Ethics, however, cannot be confined to religion nor is it the same as religion. Being ethical is also not the same as following the law. The law often incorporates ethical standards to which most citizens subscribe. But laws, like feelings, can deviate from what is ethical. Our own pre-Civil War slavery laws and the old apartheid laws of present-day South Africa are grotesquely obvious examples of laws that deviate from what is ethical.
Finally, being ethical is not the same as doing "whatever society accepts." In any society, most people accept standards that are, in fact, ethical. But standards of behavior in society can deviate from what is ethical. An entire society can become ethically corrupt. Nazi Germany is a good example of a morally corrupt society.”
Following this line of reasoning, MWEG stunningly concludes (correspondence, March 13), “We have since made this further distinction: For MWEG, ethics and morality are not the same thing. Morality deals with questions of right and wrong while ethics deals with what is just and unjust. At MWEG, we are not in the business of debating morality, just ethics and legality.” As a result, the words “morality” and “moral” appear nowhere on the MWEG website.
Mormon women are not in the business of debating morality? Let’s examine that proposition for a moment. Mormonism asserts its moral code comes from God through His prophet, and the distinctiveness of Mormons is that they live this moral code, they preach and proselyte this moral code, and they raise their children in this moral code. That’s what makes them Mormon. In fact, Mormons believe there is a Great Plan of Happiness for all God’s children, whether they are religious believers or not. Happiness for every individual, believer or not, is contingent upon greater adherence to what is right. But MWEG would prefer its members not “deal with questions of right and wrong”?
Of course, Mormons believe we came to this planet to see if we would “choose the right,” since we already won the right to agency/choice in the War in Heaven. While MWEG is happy with choice, it is apparently very uncomfortable suggesting what choices would be consonant with God-given moral principles and which would not. Consider the response I received when asking about a particular moral issue of concern today—transgender issues (correspondence, March 13):
“What is MWEGs official stand on transgender issues?
I've asked [name redacted], committee lead over Discrimination, to consult with [names redacted] who oversee the sub-committee on LGBTQ discrimination, and then report back to us. I think we need to do more research, listen more, pray more, and discuss more before we come to a final decision. My own inclination is to make this clear distinction: We will not engage in any debate over the "morality" of being gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, or queer. That falls outside the purview of our organization. We do, however, stand strong against any discriminatory acts/rhetoric/legislation directed at any human being, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, body type, etc., etc. In other words, we do and will support anti-discrimination rights, just as the Church has done, for every living human being.”
Now, what constitutes “anti-discrimination rights” is the point of the spear, I would suggest. Every human being deserves respect as a child of God, as we are repeatedly reminded by our General Authorities, most recently and eloquently by Elder Renlund in the most recent general conference. But does the principle of anti-discrimination include transgender access to sex-segregated restrooms and locker rooms, even in schools? Does it include insurance-funded access to transition surgery and drugs for little children? Does the principle of anti-discrimination dictate acquiescence to male imperialism over the definition of “woman”? Does the principle of anti-discrimination accept redefining sex as gender in Title IX, thereby destroying women’s sports in one fell swoop?
MWEG ducks these questions, of course. Why? Because to wrestle with these questions means they would have to make a determination of right and wrong—a moral determination. MWEG members may have a moral code in their lives as Mormons, but they apparently choose to hold that moral code at arm’s length in the public square. The very concept of “sin” is just so . . . discriminatory.
More broadly, I’d suggest Velasquez et al. are naïve, and their argument a poor foundation for an organization like MWEG. Even the title of their article, "Thinking Ethically: A Framework for Moral Decision Making,” suggests that it is impossible to make the philosophical distinction between ethics and morals that MWEG so desires. If ethics are not based in morals rooted in the transcendent Word, then ethics will be based on might and popularity. As sure as night follows day, abandoning morality as the basis of ethics means what is ethical will be determined on the basis of Korihorian “genius.” Rather than enhancing choice, I submit such an approach ensures choice will be destroyed over time. Might and popularity are jealous masters, unable to resist the totalitarian impulse.
Elder Christofferson makes that very plain in his recent conference address, worth quoting at length here:
“[T]hose who claim truth is relative and moral standards are a matter of personal preference are often the same ones who most harshly criticize people who don’t accept the current norm of “correct thinking.” One writer referred to this as the “shame culture”:
“In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. … [In the shame culture,] moral life is not built on the continuum of right and wrong; it’s built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion … Everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along…The guilt culture could be harsh, but at least you could hate the sin and still love the sinner. The modern shame culture allegedly values inclusion and tolerance, but it can be strangely unmerciful to those who disagree and to those who don’t fit in.”25
Contrasted to this is “the rock of our Redeemer,”26 a stable and permanent foundation of justice and virtue. How much better it is to have the unchanging law of God by which we may act to choose our destiny rather than being hostage to the unpredictable rules and wrath of the social media mob. How much better it is to know the truth than to be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”27 How much better to repent and rise to the gospel standard than to pretend there is no right or wrong and languish in sin and regret.” (italics added).
To preserve the possibility of agency, then, there is no other alternative to basing societal ethics in transcendent morals. That scholars associated with a Jesuit institution are unable to see integral linkage is really quite remarkable. That an organization of Mormon women is unwilling to admit that linkage is even more lamentable—why are they sending their sons and daughters on missions, then, for goodness sake?
Elder Christofferson suggests that while many define hypocrisy as “not practicing what you preach,” there is another type of hypocrisy, equally harmful: “not preaching what you practice.” He provides an example:
“Deseret News opinion editor Hal Boyd cited one example of the disservice inherent in staying silent. He noted that while the idea of marriage is still a matter of “intellectual debate” among elites in American society, marriage itself is not a matter of debate for them in practice. “‘Elites get and stay married and make sure their kids enjoy the benefits of stable marriage.’ … The problem, however, is that [they] tend not to preach what they practice.” They don’t want to “impose” on those who really could use their moral leadership, but “it is perhaps time for those with education and strong families to stop feigning neutrality and start preaching what they practice pertaining to marriage and parenting … [and] help their fellow Americans embrace it.”32.
Think also about the most important ethical shifts over the course of human history—these shifts were all linked to notions of right and wrong, that is, to morals. Slavery, for example, was not deemed unjust until it was deemed wrong. And that took immense struggle of a moral nature. Even the Oxford English Dictionary sees the link when it defines “ethics” as "moral principles that govern a person's behavior," and "the moral correctness of a specified conduct." In the Mormon worldview, ethics are rooted in God’s commandments. There's just no ducking the foundational and unbreakable linkage here.
So why would MWEG obfuscate and even deny the linkage between ethics and morals? While President Hinckley urges, “Do not let fear overcome your efforts,” it is hard not to wonder if it is fear that drives MWEG to duck these critical issues of the day. Does MWEG fear offending others with their Mormon morals, or fear the opprobrium that would come to them--particularly from the liberal side of the political spectrum--from that effort? If so, this is not a courageous stance for MWEG to take; it is but a popular stance. As Elder Christofferson expresses,
“We trust that especially you of the rising generation, youth and young adults on whom the Lord must rely for the success of His work in future years, will sustain the teachings of the gospel and the standards of the Church in public as well as in private. Do not abandon those who would welcome truth to floundering and failing in ignorance. Do not succumb to false notions of tolerance or to fear—fear of inconvenience, disapproval, or even suffering.” (italics added)
Over the last several years, the General Authorities of the Church have tirelessly promoted religious liberty in every possible way (see, for example, http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/elder-oaks-religious-freedom-Chapman-University). Now that the majority of our society are choosing positions inconsistent with what the Church asserts as morally right, the Church knows that it must shore up religious liberty—the liberty to live and preach what one believes is morally right. If that liberty is lost, then the Great Plan of Happiness cannot be fully effected. Of course, individuals wanting to live morally will not be held accountable when that choice is taken from them by their governments, but it is clear that God is not neutral about whether a society gives Their children the choice to find that Happiness or not. As any parents would, our Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father actively want happiness for Their children. In fact, They care about this so much, They are prepared to do something about it. In the Book of Mormon we read, “And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction” (Mosiah 29:27).
One looks in vain, however, for any mention of religious liberty on MWEG’s website. It is simply not there (or at least was not when I penned this essay), though I have been told MWEG has a working group looking at the issue. One is tempted to ask, in MWEG-ian terms, “Isn’t religious liberty legal? Isn’t religious liberty ethical? And isn’t religious liberty threatened?” Why, then, isn’t religious liberty front and center on their website, rather than completely missing? I suspect the answer once again has to do with fear: does MWEG fear the opprobrium they would experience for taking up a cause that is not associated with the liberal wing of the political spectrum, but rather is much more associated with the conservative side? MWEG apparently does not want to have a tent quite that large—even if the General Authorities of their own Church would bless their organization for standing up in this good cause. . . even if Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father would bless MWEG for its courage if it raised its voice in defense of this principle.
And religious liberty is no overblown “red herring” issue, either. In Australia, MP Pauline Hanson, founder of the One Nation party, has recently demanded the Australian government officially rule that Islam is an ideology instead of a religion, so that Islam can be banned outright. People of good will should be horrified at Hanson’s proposal. If Mormons—including Mormon women--cannot or will not defend religious liberty, the future will be grim, indeed, for their faith.
Consider but one example of how support for religious liberty could be undertaken by MWEG without harming its stance on anti-discrimination: the famous “Utah Compromise,” lauded nationwide as a model for other states. While advocating for the rights of homosexual individuals to have dignity and equal access to housing and employment, the Church also insists on the right of its members to teach their children that homosexual behavior is a sin and that God ordained marriage to be heterosexual. That is what that noun “compromise” is signaling in the phrase “Utah Compromise.”
But that appears to be a bridge too far for MWEG. I cannot help but wonder why? Could it be that openly stating you wish to preserve the liberty to teach your children LDS doctrine on, for example, homosexuality would be seen by those on the liberal end of the political spectrum as being hateful and discriminatory and offensive to the dignity of homosexual individuals? If it were to champion religious liberty, perhaps MWEG would feel forced to make an unpopular, but moral choice instead of ducking the choice altogether. They would have to make the choice to stand up “in those causes for which this Church stands,” instead of holding those teachings at arm’s length and refusing to mention them. Perhaps that is too uncomfortable.
Salt and Savor
Could there be a “two masters” problem at work in the MWEG project? MWEG has chosen to divorce its efforts from LDS morality, apparently so the world will not think ill of the group. MWEG’s strenuous efforts to distance itself from any taint of morality suggest it is already starting to “hate the one” as Christ predicted would be the case whenever there are two masters.
This is so, so sad. Consider what MWEG has decided (correspondence, March 14): “LGBT discrimination issues will fall under the umbrella of the Discrimination committee. Because of the nature/mission/focus of MWEG, we will not deal with any issues surrounding gay marriage, pro or con. The general topics of women’s health and contraception fall under the umbrella of the Heath committee. Because of the nature/mission/focus of MWEG, we will not deal with any issues surrounding abortion, pro or con.”
And consider the justification given (correspondence, March 14): “When we say that we will not engage in any debate over the morality of being homosexual, that does not mean that we do not support the Church's position on homosexual behavior. In fact, our views are perfectly in line with the Church's position . . . In other words, we do and will support anti-discrimination rights, just as the Church has done, for every living being.”
Perhaps I am just a bit slow, but I do not see that perfect alignment. Supporting anti-discrimination is not as simple as it sounds, as discussed above, and I suspect that when push comes to shove and the on-the-ground issues instead of abstractions are engaged, MWEG would privilege anti-discrimination over and above religious liberty. The absence of support for religious liberty on its site kind of makes that abundantly plain. While MWEG states on its website, “We do, however, fully sustain, honor, and support the Church’s doctrines and leaders,” it is difficult to see that is so. Members of MWEG may be offering such support in private, but there is no public evidence of anything but a desire on the part of MWEG to hold the Church’s positions on issues such as abortion and homosexuality at arm’s length and never mention them at all. But how better it would feel, with Elder Christofferson, “May we each be able to say to the Lord with David: “I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart” (Psalm 40:10).
The delimitation of "the nature/mission/focus" of MWEG is, in the end, used to exclude some of the most important issues facing humankind today, issues upon which the Church has taken a clear stance. It seems to me this says, "We are Mormon women who choose to stand mute on these issues of great import. We refuse to utter even one word of support for the Church's stance on these issues." Why would an organization calling itself MWEG do that? Isn’t this salt without savor? Elder Christofferson asks us to remember the Savior’s promise to those at risk of “succumb[ing] to false notions of tolerance or to fear—fear of inconvenience, disapproval, or even suffering”:
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
“Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12).
An Incredible Opportunity to Carve Out a Political Middle Ground: The Mormon ‘Third Way’ and the Promise of Purple
As a political scientist, I have always thought that Mormons occupy a pretty interesting middle ground within American politics—a ground that defies categorization as liberal or conservative in many ways. The 2016 election, which saw the official Republican candidate taking only a plurality of votes instead of a majority in Utah, is but one example. The Church’s insistence on humane treatment of illegal immigrants, coupled with a refusal to allow illegal immigrants to serve missions, is another. The “Utah Compromise,” discussed previously, is another. The Church’s position on abortion, which allows several exceptions, is probably the crowning example. When I think of the polarization of our political system, I cannot help but think that Mormons hold some of the keys necessary to move our nation forward beyond this unhealthy polarization. I once heard Bruce Hafen, when he was provost of BYU, assert that the Church’s position on many things is neither red nor blue, but rather, purple.
It’s the promise of that purple that makes me sad at the missed opportunity represented by MWEG. Indulge me for a moment, and see if you can see the potential of LDS purple in American politics, as I do (of course the “blue” and “red” positions here are painted in caricature):
|Abortion is between a woman and her doctor, period.||Abortion must remain legal because there are several instances in which it can be morally justified. However, abortion must be regulated by the government so that it remains rare. And men must understand that it is primarily their actions which cause abortion, and the government has the right to disincentivize male indifference to the consequences of their sexual behavior.||Abortion is murder.|
|Illegal immigrants should be fully accepted within society and immediately provided with all benefits of citizens.||Treat illegal immigrants humanely, and do not separate families. Vote for laws that are both humane and respect a country’s right to control its own borders. Actively deport criminals, and do not countenance sex-imbalanced immigration. Disincentivize illegal immigration; for example, support a probationary system in which full welfare benefits are not provided by the government (but can be provided by other organizations, such as churches) until sufficient contributions have been made to ensure social welfare programs remain viable and sustainable over time.||Deport all illegal immigrants and build a wall to make it harder for them to come.|
|The concept of sin is discriminatory and should be considered hate speech.||Support measures that prohibit discrimination against minorities, such as gender minorities, but simultaneously recognize more fully the right of every American to hold beliefs that certain actions are sinful, and the right to teach their children the same, and the right to argue for laws and changes to laws that they believe would secure the blessings of heaven for their nation—in other words, support religious liberty.||Citizens should have the right to discriminate against certain groups, for example, gender minorities.|
|Legalize drugs.||Don’t legalize drugs, but cut penalties for small possession amounts while retaining tough penalties on drug traffickers. Fund an effective system of rehabilitation for drug addicts.||Lock up drug offenders.|
|Legalize prostitution.||Adopt the Nordic Model—arrest the johns and pimps, and provide assistance to the prostitutes.||Lock up prostitutes.|
|Erase all distinctions based on sex in order to promote sexual equality.||While supporting laws that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, simultaneously recognize that sex does exist and is meaningful. So, for example, refuse to substitute gender for sex in Title IX.||Do not offer protection on the basis of gender, but only on the basis of sex.|
|Prioritize the environment over people||Refuse to see a zero-sum game between protecting the human race and protecting the earth; both are important to protect||Prioritize people over the environment|
|Spend less on defense||Spend as much investing in America’s human capital as we spend on defense. Both should be strengths.||Spend more on defense|
|Strengthen the Department of Education||Retain state control over education, with a circumscribed, supportive role for the Department of Education. Protect the right to homeschool as an integral adjunct to religious liberty.||Abolish the Department of Education, returning all control of schools to the states.|
While neither exhaustive nor authoritative, this thought experiment suggests that the Mormon “third way” in American politics may have an appeal to a broader section of society than either the polarized left or right of contemporary times. In addition, the Mormon third way embraces the principles of nondiscrimination and religious liberty simultaneously, eschewing the sophistic division of ethics from morals. This is fruitful ground for MWEG to plough, if it has the courage to embrace—fully embrace and not hold at arm’s length—what it means to be a Mormon.
I end on a hopeful note. I am still very happy that MWEG exists, for it shows a greater willingness on the part of Mormon women to be active and influential on contemporary issues of concern to our polity. Every organization has growing pains, and it would be silly to base a final judgment on the basis of three months of existence. I wish MWEG all the best. But as part of wishing MWEG the best, I suggest it is also time for MWEG to stop ducking the issues raised in this essay, hiding behind an illusory and sophistic division between ethics and morals, rendering the organization mute on the issues that most concern the Church and, arguably, our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Is MWEG up to the task of saying something is wrong, even if that would offend the sensibilities of the world? Is MWEG prepared to preach what it practices? Is MWEG prepared to raise its collective voice in strong defense of religious liberty? If it were, I would join in a heartbeat. The world needs an MWEG at this crucial juncture in our history--an M?WEG will not be enough. Godspeed and best wishes to all involved!
[Back to manuscript].
[Back to manuscript].
 And perhaps it might even have to be an MWGG (Mormon Women for Good Governance).
[Back to manuscript].
Full Citation for this Article: Cassler, V.H. (2017) "The Ethical Dilemma of Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG)," SquareTwo, Vol. 10 No. 1 (Spring 2017), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHudsonMormonWomenEthicalGov.html, accessed <give access date>.
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I. Lanny Landrith
I really enjoyed Cassler's review. I'm amazed that any organization would deny the interlocking nature of ethics and morals. There are no ethics without morals. There are no morals without ethics.
One thing that puzzles me: Why aren't more who espouse feminism outraged by the possibility of women and girls losing their privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms if transgender people are permitted to enter women's bathrooms and locker rooms? I knew teenage boys who would have thought it hilarious to call themselves transgenders and go into female bathrooms and locker rooms.
II. Leslie Pearson Rees
Thank you for your ability to reason and put into words the things I wish I could express with such clarity of logic, and so eloquently. And of course, you have based your reasoning and conclusions on the words of the Prophets and the scriptures, so basic to those who claim allegiance to a believing membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Lacking your artistry with words, I will quote those with authority to speak on this subject In the excerpts below. The emphasis has been added by me.
Joseph Smith put it this way: “All persons are entitled to their agency, for God has so ordained it. He has constituted mankind moral agents, and given them power to choose good or evil; to seek after that which is good, by pursuing the pathway of holiness in this life, which brings peace of mind, and joy in the Holy Ghost here, and a fulness of joy and happiness at His right hand hereafter; or to pursue an evil course, going on in sin and rebellion against God, thereby bringing condemnation to their souls in this world, and an eternal loss in the world to come.” (History of the Church,4:45, footnote; from a letter from the First Presidency and high council to the Saints living west of Kirtland, Ohio, Dec. 8, 1839, Commerce, Illinois, published in Times and Seasons,Dec. 1839, p. 29.)
Speaking to the Female Relief Society, as recorded by Wilford Woodruff, we read:
“The [Female Relief Society] meeting was addressed by President Joseph Smith, to illustrate the object of the Society—that the Society of Sisters might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor—searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants—to assist by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the community.” (Discourse given by Joseph Smith on Mar. 17, 1842, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards, in Relief Society, Minute Book Mar. 1842–Mar. 1844, p. 7, Church Archives.)
Elder Boyd K Packer, in his Conference address of April 1992, “Our Moral Environment,” made the following remarks:
“Civilizations, like Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed themselves by disobedience to the laws of morality. . . . God grant that we will come to our senses and protect our moral environment from this mist of darkness which deepens day by day. The fate of all humanity hangs precariously in the balance. . . . There are both moral and physical laws “irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world” (D&C 130:20) which man cannot overrule.. . . When a moral issue does arise, it is the responsibility of the leaders of the Church to speak out. Gambling, for instance, certainly is a moralissue. Life is a moral issue. When morality is involved, we have both the right and the obligation to raise a warning voice. We do not as a church speak on political issues unless morality is involved. In thirty years and thousands of interviews, I have never once asked a member of the Church what political party they belonged to. . . . The phrase “free agency” does not appear in scripture. The only agency spoken of there is moral agency, “which,” the Lord said, “I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.” (D&C 101:78) . . . While we pass laws to reduce pollution of the earth, any proposal to protect the moral and spiritual environment is shouted down and marched against as infringing upon liberty, agency, freedom, the right to choose. “Interesting how one virtue, when given exaggerated or fanatical emphasis, can be used to batter down another, with freedom, a virtue, invoked to protect vice.” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1992/04/our-moral-environment?lang=eng)
Elder James E. Faust taught; “History teaches well the lesson that there must be a unity in some moral absolutes in all societiesfor them to endure and progress. Indeed, without a national morality they disintegrate. . . .the new civil religion I speak of finds its source of rights by invoking the power of the state. It seems to have little purpose, few common values for morality except self-interest. . . .There are natural safeguards in a God-fearing people that promote respect for law and order, decency, and public civility. That restraining influence is the belief that the citizenry will be accountable to their Creator for their conduct under a high moral law. This respect for and adherence to moral law transcends the constraints of the civil and criminal codes. In a people who are not God-fearing, however, these characteristics are notably absent. . . .The moral teachings of all our churches must have an honored place in our society. The general decline in the moral fabric of the citizenry places a greater responsibility on homes and churches to teach values—morality, decency, respect for others, patriotism, and honoring and sustaining the law.”
I think Elder Quentin L. Cook was not excusing any members when he stated “I challenge all of us to work with people of other faiths to improve the moral fabric of our communities, nations, and world and to protect religious freedom.” He went on to say: “You understand the moral principles that are under attack and the need to defend morality. Religious freedom all over the world is also under attack. It is important for us to become well educated on this issue and assume responsibility for ensuring that the religious freedom we have inherited is passed on to future generations. . . .My challenge is that we join with people of all faiths who feel accountable to God in defending religious freedom so it can be a beacon for morality.”
( https://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/09/restoring-morality-and-religious-freedom?lang=eng )
In February of 1992, Elder Dallin Oaks spoke to the BYU Management Society a while after returning from a trip to the newly opened country of Albania, which had, about 25 years earlier, banned all churches. Speaking to the country’s leaders about how L.D.S. missionaries would be received, he was told “We need the help of churches to rebuild the moral base of our country,which was destroyed by communism.” He said that same sentiment was repeated in visits to Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine. (We might note here the obvious importance of Religious Liberty and the demonstrated outcome of a loss of a moral base when that liberty is lost).
He continued “Unfortunately, other educators deny the existence of God or deem God irrelevant to the human condition. Persons who accept this view deny the existence of moral absolutes. They maintain that right and wrong are relative concepts, and morality is merely a matter of personal choice or expediency.”
Elder Oaks further stated: “churchmen can preach morality and religion as long as they do not suggest that their particular brand of religion has any connection with morality or that the resulting morality has any connection with political policies. Stated otherwise, religious preaching is okay so long as it has no practical impact on the listeners’ day-to-day behavior, especially any behavior that has anything to do with political activity or public policy.” Why do I hear echoes of MWEG’s position here? ( https://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/10/religious-values-and-public-policy?lang=eng&_r=1 )
In a more recent talk this past February, speaking to BYU graduates, Elder Oaks stated: “Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. But beyond this we should remember and follow the Savior’s teaching: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Of course this counsel to love, to avoid contention, and to be examples of civility is not meant to discourage us from participating in discussions, debates, and even taking adversarial positions against what we believe to be wrong or inadvisable . . . Within the limits of our own resources of time and influence we should take a position, make it known, and in a respectful way attempt to persuade others of its merit, at least for us. Positive action is essential to our responsibility to push back against the world.” (http://www.ldsliving.com/Elder-Oaks-I-Encourage-You-to-Stand-Clear-from-the-Current-Atmosphere-of-Hate/s/84870 )
In 1962, the First Presidency said:
“Strictly political matters should be left in the field of politics where they belong. However, on moral issues, the Church and its members take a positive stand. Latter-day Saints must ever be alert and united in fighting any influence which tends to break down the moral and spiritual strength of the people” (David O. McKay, Henry D. Moyle, Hugh B. Brown).
And of course the Lord, who gave us that “Moral Code for Living” we call the Beatitudes, also said, “That every man [and woman] may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him [her], that every man [woman] may be accountable for his [her] own sins in the day of judgment”(D&C 101:78).
As I consider the positions MWEG has taken, or not taken, especially regarding morals and religious freedom, I would wish those women, my dear sisters, would reconsider the words of Prophets, Apostles and the Savior Himself; I would hope they would ponder the importance of taking and publicly professing a moral stand, according to those moral standards the Lord has revealed through His servants. I hope they will recognize the inspiration in the charge to actively work for the religious liberty which will ensure our God-given right of moral agency, gained after a costly Heavenly battle, for us and for our children. Thus we will show our dedication to a truly ethical, moral, legal and freedom-respecting government. We will use our moral agency in ways His servants have clearly instructed us is proof of our testimony. We will, as you pointed out, Valerie, show that we believe President Hinckley’s words, and will each obey his injunction to “be a leader, as a member of this Church, in those causes for which this Church stands.”