American presidential elections are a bit bonkers but wonderfully diverting. I’ve looked on with keen interest as $6 billion dollars in campaign expenditure was gobbled up, and a searing ideological divide was created. And after months and months of vitriol and meteoric nastiness the President didn’t even change. But of one thing I am sure, the cultural ground has shifted significantly as a result, particularly for Mormons.
To be perfectly honest I don’t think that Obama deserved re-election. I’ve struggled to see how he has delivered on his promise to bring about those audacious ‘yes we can changes’ that so mesmerized the world. I’m not saying this failure is his problem entirely – the US political system is a beast, and I think he thought he could wrestle with it bare-handed. But I’m pleased he’s got another four years to try.
Having said that however, I do think what and who he represents deserves re-election. Obama represents those, who for generation after generation, have been disenfranchised and undermined, and I’m thrilled they have reminded America that they are still there and they still have hope. The election has demonstrated to the Republicans that it simply doesn’t pay to neglect the young; women; non-white minorities; the working class; or those at the periphery. Those who took the winners spoils tonight have claimed emphatically that if America is a nation who truly recognizes that ‘all men are created equal’ then it’s the role of government to do what they can to facilitate and protect that equality. They’ve said with their ballot that this adage is not merely an economic commodity that can be thrown to the market to manage, it’s a social imperative and a solemn responsibility.
For most however Romney is too reminiscent of a bygone era where the political contest both favoured white male plutocrats, and worked beautifully but almost exclusively in their service. Sadly for them the world has spun another turn.
So where does this leave those Mormons, who Romney so overwhelming represented? And where might this lead the church? If the Facebook aftermath is anything to go by, this defeat for Mormon Republicans has been bitter. Here is a post-election sample of some of those comments (apologies to those who I pilfered them from – I promise anonymity):
“I am hating being at BYU-Idaho right now, everyone is so full of hate.”
“Why don’t [you] just abort [your] next pregnancy since [you] support Obama?”
“The hatred that is spewing out of all the repubs mouths tonight is unbelievable and totally uncalled for. My own cousin comment on a pic I put on my wall that said “Mormon Mama for Obama”. The hatred and meanness towards me was sickening, I had to block him, I told him to stop making comments and he wouldn’t, so I did what I had to do, rest assured he won’t be bothering me anymore! And he is LDS also and served a mission!”
“Obama’s victory tonight is another sign that Christ’s 2nd Coming is close. Obama and his ilk…his socialist agenda… is going to bring to past the end of this country as we know it.”
“Apparently my sexual preference just changed because I support Obama, or at least that’s what I was told by an RM, amongst other things… That’s news to me and my girlfriends…”
“The Republicans are losing their minds on my page!!!! They are predicting Armageddon, the moving of mountains before morning, the Coming of Christ, etc…How sad for them that they do not accept the voice of the people.”
Of note however, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve were quick to issue their gracious congratulations, and offered Obama the church’s prayers of support. Clearly, there seems to be disconnect between the church leaders, and the members. My sense is that church leaders recognise the necessity to push on and past an entrenched, conservative political identity as an indicator of Mormon cultural belonging. Yet the extremity and violence of these voices might just be a thorn in the side of a church trying to create and manage a cultural, intellectually and politically pluralistic community. Mormon culture must change, because like the Republicans, if we dismiss the voice of the people, or fail to make the inclusive adaptations that honour ‘the least among us’, we put at risk both our relevance, and our credibility.
I have to wonder if the real Mormon Moment isn’t upon the American church now. It seems to be inviting the American church to create new narratives about our faith life that isn’t bound up with myopic and fixed notions that, upon close inspection, are more cultural than transcendent. It calls upon the American church to do the difficult task of finding ways of making our faith attractive and relevant for all of those who have been traditionally passed over in the trammel for success.
But right now it calls upon those embittered Republican Mormon Americans to go to church on Sunday morning, seat themselves in a pew next to their Democrat brothers and sisters and with genuine gratitude say a prayer of thanks for a nation that has given them fellow countrymen who feel as passionate about their country as they do!