Mormon Culture: Activist and Mormon. Is it possible?

Just so you know, I’m a feminist, and I believe our society needs to do more to treat others equal, including ethnic minorities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Do you think there’s tension between fighting for the rights of certain groups and being a Mormon at the same time?

I’ve always felt like members of the church get a little uncomfortable when I talk about being a feminist. Being a feminist doesn’t mean I hate men; I just think women and men deserve to be treated equally. Is that so far-fetched? And I’ve never understood why I’ve felt a level of discomfort from others when I get to talking about “activist issues.”

the discussion

But then I learned a thing or two from Dr. Ignacio Garcia, historian and author of “Chicano While Mormon: Activism, War, and Keeping the Faith.”

In an email, he told me there’s tension between being an activist and being a person of faith for a couple of reasons.

  1. Activism is about being anti-establishment and/or anti-institutional, while religion is about loyalty to authority, stability, and order. Activism gains traction by weakening and delegitimizing power structures, whereas centralized religions “thrive in places where central authority is strong and there is civility in the public square.”
  2. Activism’s goals, while similar to those of religion, do not fall in line with moral and “proper behavior.” Rather, activists protest, question authority, speak loudly, and challenge ideologies. Even if they are soft-spoken, Garcia said, they still seek for a shift in power and distribution of resources.
  3. Religious people are typically conservative and have certain views on what is considered “proper behavior.” Garcia said activists prioritize people over institutions and policies, while religious people privilege institutions, rules, and doctrinal interpretation — and “the religious person might truly love their neighbor but how they fulfill that loyalty or love is approached differently.”

So how does any of this relate to Mormonism? Garcia said Mormons (in the context of American Mormon culture) tend to be conservative in their behavior, meaning “they do not like to engage in open, honest discussions about equality, racism, poverty, etc.”

He then makes quite an interesting statement that I think could be true for some people, though not all. But it’s something for each of us to think about: “Mormons are also too protective of their economics (money) to talk about anything that might dislodge some of their possession,” Garcia said. “Most Mormons are good and generous givers but only as long as they can keep people at bay — arms’ length, on the other side of the world outside of their neighborhoods or religious spaces.”

There’s just some food for thought to stir the pot. But instead of getting upset at what he said, I want you to honestly ask yourself, “Could that be true? How? What is he referring to? If it’s an observation he has made, where could it be coming from? Do I do anything akin to that? Do I truly go out and help the poor and needy, or do I maybe just pray for the poor and needy and hope that my tithing is a sufficient way to help them?”

Garcia did say, however, that being an activist does not excuse people from living a moral life. “Activism resulted from my religious and moral principles and not as a rejection of them,” he said.

What he’s saying is that it’s okay to speak out, but it’s not okay to light someone’s car on fire (that’s called arson, which is also called illegal) just because you disagree with their political views.

the answer

Yeah, it’s okay to be an activist and be a Mormon. You just need to figure out how to balance it. Feel free to speak out, but also make sure you’re doing it in a way in which you can live a moral life. Now, there’s no exact formula, but I’ll let you know what it is if I ever I figure it out.

questions to consider

  • If people have strong beliefs that you disagree with, have you tried seeing the issue through their eyes?
  • Are their ideas stemming from a “love thy neighbor” attitude?
  • What about your ideas? Are you more concerned about “loving your neighbor” or “judging your neighbor”?
  • Are your thoughts rooted in the two Great Commandments (love God and thy neighbor), or are you judging, even though Jesus said “Judge not”?

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