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Creeds, Mormonism, Evangelicals, and Third Party Politics

July 2, 2009

What can we figure out from contrasting America’s traditional party politics system with the diverse and (sometimes unstable) political structures of European nations, which most often have proportional election systems that allows for smaller, less popular parties to get a foot in the door?

And what can Mormonism and Evangelicalism have anything to do with it?

Before I read “Why We’re Confused” by Bridget Jack Meyers (just call her Jack), I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. But as I began reading…my mind started racing.

I think it has to do with creeds.

I admit, when I think of evangelicalism, my mind defaults to the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s because that’s what’s been the majority influence in the areas I’ve grown up in (at least for my stay in America). And yet, as Jack points out, Evangelicalism is a movement that transcends mere denominations — a movement between 700 and 812 million strong. The Southern Baptist Convention, as a formal denomination, has numbers (16.2 million) that compare at with the entire Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints numbers (~13 million).

And yet, as Jack points out, pinpointing Mormon doctrine and theology is harder than pinning jello to a wall…but why would a group of 13 million match the diversity and variety as a group of 700 million?

I think Jack describes it well:

Does the diversity and variety found throughout all of evangelical Christianity outdo Mormonism’s diversity and variety? Definitely. Does the diversity and variety found within a single Protestant denomination of comparable size outdo that of Mormonism? Unlikely, and there’s a good reason for that. A Mormon who begins to reject some of the positions being officially articulated by church leaders or desires to see change within the church is still going to believe that those leaders are God’s prophets who hold the keys to the priesthood, so he’ll probably stay in the church. A Southern Baptist who begins to disagree with some of the pronouncements and beliefs of her denomination will likely shift to another Baptist denomination more suited to her beliefs, or another form of Christianity altogether.

And this is when I started thinking about the ideas of creeds. With any given Protestant denomination (and of course, the most famous creeds precede Protestantism completely!) , there are specific creeds that make you orthodox or heretic. If not explicitly called a creed, there is at least some informal or formalized standard of belief…in which case, if you don’t believe in some pronouncement, you skip on over to one you do believe.

On the other hand, Mormonism is designed to reject creeds. So even today, while the LDS have Articles of Faith and specific accepted beliefs, doctrines, and practices, one can see amazing breadth in belief. One can receive personal revelation and doesn’t necessarily need believe that when the brethren speak, the thinking is done (or maybe one does?). And so, one can stay in the church with a variety of unorthodox beliefs, because perhaps orthopraxy is more valuable.

Similarly, in American politics, at least, it seems like both parties have very generalized platforms but seek to remain center-pleasing. So you can be a Democrat with a variety of beliefs, or a Republican with a variety of beliefs. While it may ideologically make sense to shun one party or another because of betrayal of some issue…you don’t get very far outside of the two major parties…there’s not much place to go because even if you support a third party…winner takes all. So in the end, the two parties become rather unfulfilling, but that’s what you deal with.

This is different in nations that have proportional voting systems. All of a sudden, a non-majority vote still means something as far as parliamentary representation goes…so now, smaller, more extreme and focused parties can flourish, because it still makes sense for them to exist independently. And like each denomination combines to make representatives of the overall representative movement, so do many minor parties create coalitions in other nations’ politics. So, your personal allegiance goes with a party that fits you. It’s just that they’ll have to deal with more dissimilar groups to get things doe.

Maybe, if not form coalition, there can at least be dialogue between traditionally opposed sides.

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2 Comments
  1. Interesting analysis, Andrew. So basically…

    LDS church = Democrat or Republican party
    Protestant church = Other nations with lots of political parties

    Is that about right?

  2. essentially.

    I don’t think applicability goes too far though…I’d be interested in finding out what happens to people who become disillusioned w/ an American party vs. people who becomes disillusioned w/ a European party.

    Because at least anecdotally, there is a difference in what happens when people become disillusioned with LDS church vs. a protestant denomination. The protestant finds another protestant church to go to that better fits his belief, but the LDS generally drops out of religion (then again, I’m not sure if the “stereotype” that more exmormons become atheist has any backing).

    So…could it be that Americans who become frustrated with politics become apathetic while Europeans simply find another party? I think this is problematic because there are some accounts that despite American parties not matching well wtih individuals, more people here are civically involved.

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