My family and I recently participated in the March for Life, the big annual pro-life march in DC, so I’ve been thinking about a variety of things related to that (in no particular order).
To what extent should you use your religious affiliation as an adjective for your political identity (or vice-versa)? On the left there are certainly examples of this (Mormons for Marriage, MWEG, etc.), but what are we trying to say when you do this? My wife didn’t want to create the “Latter-day Saints for Life” poster because she would have marched whether she was religious or not (there is a “Secular Pro-Life” group that has a presence every year at the march; a non-religious version of me, of course, would have probably spent that weekend eating pizza and playing video games). I suspect there are both religious-community and political-community facing reasons for combining the two. We want both of those communities to know that we can be X and a Latter-day Saint. For some, I suspect that there is also a desire to draw attention to a particular strand of Latter-day Saint thought that comports with that political/social position.
The Hari Krishna temple in Springville, Utah is a fascinating example of this. They do not proselytize about becoming Krishna (not that I would find it unwelcome if they did), but they do have materials about how good Latter-day Saints should refrain from eating meat (and they’ve certainly done their homework, so if you don’t want to lose your testimony of your carnivore diet come prepared when you visit). The fact is that there is enough prophetic discursive material among Latter-day Saints that you can take almost any social/political issue and build up an exegetical body of conference or other quotations that supports at least aspects of that position.
The Latter-day Saints for Life case is certainly no different. Occasionally there is a dedicated anti-abortion talk, but they come at the cadence of about once every ten years or so. Occasionally people try to argue (some more convincing than others) that not only does a position enjoy the support of this or that quote, but that it is the natural outgrowth of some fundamental aspect of Latter-day Saint doctrine. For me on this note, my abortion position stems more from emotion-based moral sentiments than from some systematic theological exegesis (my use of “emotion” should not be seen as synonymous with weak; some of the most important ideological and political innovations were based more on emotion than some graduate school-level moral calculus equation, although there is interplay between the two); I fully recognize that Latter-day Saint theology on this issue is more ambiguous and less systematic or central than, for example, the Catholic case.
There is a reason that ours was the only “Latter-day Saints for Life” sign there (that we could see), whereas just about every Catholic institution of note had very visible representation. I get the sense that every religion has the attention space and bandwidth for maybe ten signature issues (possibly excepting the Jehovah’s Witnesses; in all my discussions with them I’ve never quite figured out what their thesis statement is, but that’s probably more my failing than theirs); others may occasionally get attention but they aren’t the emphasis. Catholics have decided that anti-abortion sentiment is one of their top ten, whereas for us it’s probably somewhere between items 50-100.
I’m not suggesting the Church makes abortion a top ten issue and, say, has 5th Sunday lessons on the subject (for me the most boring Church related discussions take the general form of people saying: “X is really important to me, I wish that they would emphasize X in general conference or the Sunday School curriculum like they emphasize Y.”’), I’m just making an observation. However, anti-abortion sentiment ranks higher in emphasis than many other issues that probably get a larger “Latter-day Saints for X” protestor draw, but I wonder how much of that draw is the excitement of living a political paradox, whereas being a Latter-day Saint for Life doesn’t have the thrill of living that paradox, but is also not a “top ten issue” for the Church, even though many members we talk to are jealous that we are in a position to be able to attend pro-life marches and I suspect there is a lot of latent pro-life energy in the Latter-day Saint community at large.