LDS Living magazine had an interesting article about overzealous Mormons who basically compete to be more righteous than the other. This phenomenon elevates Mormon culture ahead of actual commandments.
We see it all of the time. Everyone knows someone who is hypersensitive and overzealous about some feature of the Gospel – like food storage or church service or cola drinks. You can see these dysfunctions most clearly in settings where Mormons are clustered and dominate a population. For instance, take a look inside the LDS Church office building. The first thing that stands out is that everybody looks the same – male employees look and dress the same, as do the women. Those familiar styles aren’t the result of commandments; they’re culture.
For over 25 years, earlier in my career, I had a beard. When I was offered the Sutherland job, its founder asked me if I’d shave my beard. I replied, “Is that a deal breaker?” And he said, no. Not being an Utahn, I thought his request was weird. For instance, I’ve never had a donor who gave me $50,000 tell me he would have given me $100,000 if only I’d have been clean shaven. But the founder said, “I think you will come to see that first impressions mean a lot in Utah and most people here aren’t fond of beards.” And, you know, he was right. My beard was gone within a year or so. The broader Utah culture didn’t press me to shave; the heavy Mormon culture inside Sutherland did.
The LDS Living article I mentioned is an excerpt from a new book by Brent Top titled, Finding Inner Peace: Lessons Learned From Trying Too Hard. He writes, “Sometimes, in an attempt to prove our faithfulness to the gospel, Mormons create standards that require even more than what the Lord is asking of us. So before we expend too much energy trying to live these ‘higher’ standards, we should ask ourselves if we are living the cultural gospel or the Lord’s gospel.”
And then it hit me. This idea of Mormons living the cultural gospel explains the politics of self-righteousness so prevalent in Mormon political circles, such as the Utah Republican Party. But, before I share that thought, the book author includes a quote from Brigham Young in his article. It goes like this, “How I regret the ignorance of this people – how it floods my heart with sorrow to see so many Elders of Israel who wish everybody to come to their standard and be measured by their measure…If they see an erring brother or sister, whose course does not comport with their particular ideas of things, they conclude at once that he or she cannot be a Saint, and withdraw their fellowship, concluding that, if they are in the path of truth, others must have precisely their weight and dimensions.” (Journal of Discourses, 8:8-9)
There is a reason why so many of the Republican crazies in Utah come from Utah and Davis counties. Those populations are heavily Mormon. Their politics cannot help but become insular, competitive and backbiting. Just as with the Church in prosperous Mormon populations, the politics in these areas become hyper-competitive. When a population is homogenous there is little separation in difference between people and candidates for public office. One way to separate yourself from your opponent in these heavily Mormon areas is, unfortunately, to sound and behave self-righteous.
Everyone has witnessed this act. Everyone has been exposed to that guy so strident about the Constitution that you just cringe every time he gets up to speak. Utah Republicans quote the founding fathers as if politics is gospel, forgetting that it’s quite possible that even George Washington was wrong about something.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more prevalent than down in Utah County these days. Between the recent libertarian crazy talk and the push for political purity, Utah County has become a hotbed for everything that makes normal people just shake their heads. Just as when the cultural gospel incites apostates and Tribune writers to bash the LDS Church, so too does this pharisaical, self-righteous political posturing inside Utah’s Republican Party incite normal voters to run for the hills or fight back, as with Count My Vote.
Today’s Republican candidates in Utah run on ideological platforms, not policy platforms. We no longer hear about reforms and innovations. All we hear about from these candidates is who is more conservative, who knows the Constitution better, who is the true purist, not who is actually the most qualified or the more intelligent or more reasonable or more inspiring. I’m all in favor of truth. I’m just not in favor of substituting self-righteousness for truth.