Mitt, Moochers, and Mormonism’s Other Legacy
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In the nineteenth century, Romania Bunnell Pratt was the second woman doctor west of the Mississippi (1877) and one of many Mormon women of the time who were encouraged to attend universities in the East. Utah Territory extended women the right to vote as early as 1869, earning it a visit by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Martha Hughes Cannon, a physician (University of Michigan, 1881), and polygamist Mormon wife, successfully ran against her own husband to become America’s first female state senator. This should not be surprising coming from a tradition that includes a goddess, Heavenly Mother.
(Other traditionally marginalized groups may not fare so well with Mormon doctrine. Homosexual unions, for example, run counter to Mormon narratives in a way that working women do not. They challenge not only traditional marriage on earth but the whole cosmic Mormon family plan which requires heterosexual partners that progress to godhood, beget spirit children, and raise families for eternity.)
A Mormon Liberation Theology?
One of the best kept secrets in the tradition is that early on Mormons were overwhelmingly Democrats, so much so that the Prophet Brigham Young assigned certain families to become Republican in order to create a bipartisan environment. Utah voted for FDR four times and Truman thereafter. It did not become solidly Republican until the 1950s, and was undoubtedly influenced by the Cold War and then the turmoil of the civil rights movement and rebellious youth culture. The deal was sealed by Roe v. Wade.
With the Cold War fading, however, apocalyptic narratives may abate, opening space for new “King Benjamin” political alignments. Mormons have not followed some of their Evangelical counterparts in their substitution of Islam for the Soviet menace, for example, and there are no Mormon gaffes on this score akin to those of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Franklin Graham—even though End Times prophesies place Mormons squarely behind Israel in all land disputes with its Muslim neighbors. Abortion remains a challenge, but with no doctrinal obstacles to birth control, Mormons could join hands with likeminded Democrats to forge a more robust policy of prevention.
Most importantly, there are seeds for a Mormon left-leaning politics in its cosmic tales, and perhaps even for a Mormon form of liberation theology. “Free agency,” the lynchpin of the Mormon Plan of Salvation, emphasizes the individual’s right to choose his or her own path (to follow God or to go one’s own way); the narrative of King Benjamin; the United Order; and the conception of a Heavenly Mother (co-equal with God), along with Mormonism’s previous empowerment of women all provide potential resources for a discourse that speaks to the liberation and well-being of all.
So steeped was my childhood in King Benjamin sympathies that I await the catalyst that gives rise to a waiting-in-the-unconscious wave of social justice politics across my beloved Mormon valley. In my own restoration daydreams, the pre-Tea Party Romney once played the role of Nixon opening China—the Mormon politician who flip-flops one last time to let his King Benjamin heart flood the Tea Party plains. While Mitt has since dashed the hopes of this particular fantasy, there are certainly others waiting in the wings.