At least by the time I was in graduate school, evangelical Protestant anti-Mormonism was clearly the single most obvious overt challenger to the claims of the Restoration and to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — as distinct, of course, from the usual tugs of worldly temptation and sheer burn-out. It was the day of The God Makers and of Ex-Mormons for Jesus. There was an actual anti-Mormon visitor center in greater Los Angeles — Todd Compton and I visited it one memorable day — and there may perhaps have been others elsewhere. The mountebank sensationalist Ed Decker was riding high, bringing similar charlatans like Bill Schnoebelen along in his train. It was no coincidence that the periodical that I founded shortly after joining the faculty at Brigham Young University, which eventually became the FARMS Review, devoted a not insignificant portion of its attention to the products of the fervent and often rather bizarre anti-Mormon movement.
But the evangelical anti-Mormon tide began to recede many years ago, and I have, for quite a while now, believed the most important overt challenger to Latter-day Saint faith (and, for that matter, to evangelical Protestantism) to be secularism and/or leftist social, political, cultural, and moral views, many of them coupled in one way or another with sex and sexuality. The rise of the religious “nones,” unchurched and often sexually “liberated,” sometimes atheistic but perhaps more often vaguely “spiritual but not religious,” is the much noted and obvious indicator of this trend.
But, to my considerable surprise, I’ve begun to notice another overt challenge — this time, from what many would call the political and cultural “right.” (I myself dislike putting it on the right, because it has little or nothing in common with free market, federalist, constitutionalist conservatism of the kind that I have known (and to which I’ve been seriously committed) since I was in my early teens.
What brings this to my mind at the moment is the harsh criticism of their leaders that I’ve seen from some members of the Church since the First Presidency and several apostles quite visibly received vaccinations against COVID-19 yesterday.
I’m not referring to people who have simply said that, for whatever good or bad reason, they themselves would not be seeking vaccination. They’re free to do as they choose, however misguided I may think their choices; it’s not a “commandment.” Nor — and I need to bring this up because attitudes toward the pandemic have often (however puzzling it may and does seem to me) been closely related to political attitudes — am I referring to all of the 74,222,958 Americans (46.8 percent of those who cast ballots) who voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election
I have in mind, rather, a small handful of (I’m guessing) once stalwart and (hyper?)orthodox Latter-day Saints that I’ve seen and heard — to choose just one example — compare the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve to the Gadianton Robbers. Some have also charged them with trusting in man and in the arm of flesh rather than in God and accused them of endorsing a plan to subject the world to communism.
I find such things deeply sad and disheartening.
Until recently, I had never imagined, it had never entered my mind, that very conservative Latter-day Saints might be among those described in the Lord’s preface to the Doctrine and Covenants:
Every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall. (Doctrine and Covenants 1:16)
I had never imagined that such people would, in at least a few instances, put their politics (broadly speaking) ahead of their faith (and perhaps even, eventually, ahead of their covenants), making an idol of their secular commitments.
And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood. And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree. And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost. (1 Nephi 8:21-23)
I can’t help but recall, yet again, a declaration attributed to the heroic English clergyman William Law (1686-1761). It was a favorite with the late and much-missed Elder Neal A. Maxwell, of the Council of the Twelve:
If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.
I’m thinking of one person in particular, who charges the Brethren with supporting critical race theory, disavowing canonized scripture, disparaging past prophets, supporting Black Lives Matter from the pulpit, “crying racism from the pulpit where there is none,” and openly supporting global communism.
“It’s a disgrace,” he says.
I’ll be honest. I have no idea what he’s talking about when he accuses Church leaders of supporting “critical race theory” or rejecting canonical scripture. When he condemns them for disparaging past prophets, I can only guess that he may be referring to the fact that they don’t feel bound to endorse some of, say, Brigham Young’s statements about race. If so, I must say that I, too, find those statements — like certain statements from many of his non-LDS contemporaries, including some truly great American icons — cringe-inducing. When he damns the Brethren for supposedly endorsing the Black Lives Matter organization, I presume that he’s upset that they’ve affirmed that black lives matter — which is entirely distinct from endorsing the highly problematic movement that bears that title. And when he denies the existence of racism, I can only respond that he lives in a different world than I do.
But what about the accusation that the Brethren have openly endorsed global communism from the pulpit?
The person that I have specifically in mind justifies his accusation that the Brethren endorse global communism by referring to Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s excellent address in the October 2020 conference of the Church, entitled “Sustainable Societies.” Elder Christofferson’s remarks begin as follows:
In 2015 the United Nations adopted what was called “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” It was described as “a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” The Agenda for Sustainable Development includes 17 goals to be achieved by the year 2030, such as no poverty, zero hunger, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, and decent work.
The concept of sustainable development is an interesting and important one. Even more urgent, however, is the broader question of sustainable societies. What are the fundamentals that sustain a flourishing society, one that promotes happiness, progress, peace, and well-being among its members? We have scriptural record of at least two such thriving societies. What can we learn from them?
According to the accuser, Elder Christofferson, evidently (again, according to the accuser) speaking on behalf of the First Presidency, the Twelve, and other leaders of the Church, actually endorsed the United Nations document to which he refers. However, I see no sign of such an endorsement on Elder Christofferson’s part, let alone on behalf of all of the Brethren.
Still — and I’m speaking as someone who isn’t precisely a cheerleader for the United Nations — would it really have been so bad if he had endorsed the document? Does that document really advocate the imposition of communism?
Not so far as I can see. Not even close.
At an official United Nations site, I found a handy online summary of the seventeen “sustainable development goals” mentioned by Elder Christofferson in his remarks . Here they are:
- No poverty. (This seems entirely scriptural to me: “And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” [Moses 7:18]. No specifically Marxist or communist methods or ideas are mentioned.)
- Zero hunger. (Again, perfectly scriptural: “And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked” [Mosiah 4:14, and many other places]. There is nothing Marxist about this goal, and the UN document suggests no communist practices.)
- Good health and well-being. (Surely it’s not only or even especially communists who want people to be healthy and well!)
- Quality education. (Again, this is somehow communist? If so, I can’t quite see either Marx or Engels or Lenin in it.)
- Gender equality. (Now, this one might tend to be controversial, and there’s much to be discussed in connection with it. But it’s not a peculiarly communist idea, and I hope that there are few within the Latter-day Saint community who favor superior government treatment for one sex over another.)
- Clean water and sanitation. (Do those who oppose communism need to oppose clean water and sanitation? Really? Is wasting water some kind of democratic value?)
- Affordable and clean energy. (Do freedom and democracy actually require unaffordable, dirty energy and inefficient light bulbs?)
- Decent work and economic growth. (Is there something inherently Marxist about training and educating young people for good jobs?)
- Industry, innovation, and infrastructure. (I don’t recall reading about roads, water, sanitation, and electricity in the Communist Manifesto. But I admit that it’s been a while.)
- Reduced inequalities. (It doesn’t seem to me that marginalizing and disadvantaging other people is a requirement for opposing communism.)
- Sustainable cities and communities. (Is it communist to want to reduce traffic jams and pollution? Do only Marxists cycle or organize car pools?)
- Responsible consumption and production. (It seems rather odd to imagine that the battle cry of freedom should be “Irresponsible consumption and production! No recycling of paper, plastic, glass, or aluminum! Maximum waste!”)
- Climate action. (Again, I doubt that it’s only Marxists who dislike factory pollution, car exhaust, acid rain, desertification, and smog.)
- Life below water. (Do believers in freedom and free markets really have to enjoy dying coral reefs, overhunting of fish and whales, and vast, floating, oceanic islands of plastic refuse? That’s what this one is about. Kinda reminds ya of Che Guevara, no?)
- Life on land. (Is it communist, somehow, to plant trees? Is Arbor Day a communist plot? See my blog entry on “Trees.”)
- Peace, justice, and strong institutions. (I doubt that anti-communism demands war, injustice, and weak institutions. Am I wrong? Perhaps I’m just going along with the Castro brothers.)
- Partnerships for the goals. (At this point, the UN urges people to “lobby your government to boost development financing.” Now, I don’t think that government-to-government wealth transfers and government foreign aid are very effective tools for fighting poverty. But this can be argued. It’s certainly not a “communist” position to take.)
Come on. The seventeen goals above are communist? Seriously? Now, plainly, there are free-market conservative approaches to each of the items above and there are more left-leaning approaches. And good discussions can be had about each and every one of them. But the goals are good goals. They’re not communist in any way.
Still, the fact is that Elder Christofferson didn’t endorse the seventeen United Nations goals listed above. But they’re certainly not communistic. So, even if he had endorsed them, he wouldn’t have been endorsing “global communism.” To say otherwise is simply contrary to fact (to put it charitably). And, even if he had endorsed them, that would have been only Elder Christofferson endorsing them, on his own, not the entirety of the presiding quorums of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Finally, a thought about anti-pandemic mask-wearing that somebody shared with me quite a while back:
I see people wearing winter coats and hats. What a bunch of sheep! LOL! I did my own research and found out that only 1500 people die from hypthermia in the US per year. That’s only 0.0005% of the population. They live in fear of something that 99.9995% of people won’t die from. And it gets better: A lot of the people who died from hypothermia were wearing coats and hats, and they still died! Coats don’t work!
Posted from Bountiful, Utah