Yesterday was the first ever national meeting of the LDS Democrats Caucus in Charlotte, NC as part of the Democratic National Convention. Several of those present, including Senator Harry Reid, explained how their LDS beliefs and values coincide and reinforce their political ideology. Deseret News provided an excellent article on the meeting (link below). It's always interesting for me to see a group of people who share so many ideas and beliefs in common have such a different idea of how those beliefs should impact the public sphere. In this post I hope to point out how my LDS beliefs and values coincide with my conservative ethos...and to do so with respect to those of my faith who have a different political ideology.
At the LDS Democrats Caucus they sang a popular LDS hymn, "Have I Done Any Good in the World Today." This hymn truly embodies the faith of the LDS people in action. We believe that we must follow the example of Jesus Christ and serve others. Let me see if I can use this simple hymn to explain a foundational difference--it goes to the pronoun in the title of the hymn. Have I done any good in the world today. My Christian faith requires me, at a personal level, to do good. It requires me, at a personal level, to give of my wealth and substance to others willingly. I am responsible for my actions and to encourage others to serve likewise through word and example. I believe that blessings result from giving and serving, when it is done willingly. Both the giver and the receiver are blessed. My faith does not enable me or empower me to require others to do the same.
My fellow believers who are Democrats use their belief in the need to serve others to justify taxation and spending in support of social programs. Let's take a look at the reality of taxation. Unless I agree with a tax or a specific program funded by taxes, the government is essentially pointing a gun at my head and threatening physical harm or loss of personal freedom if I don't contribute. If I don't pay my taxes to support an art program, or an environmental program, or any program with which I don't agree, I will face the threat of force from the government. In essence these programs allow blocs of voters to force others to give up money that they have earned to help others or support their programs and causes. The blessings and joy of personal responsibility to do good are removed.
Despite my best efforts I don't understand how this type of program fits within the model of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel and its attendant blessings are based on agency, the ability for each person to choose for themselves to do good or not. How is it right to put a gun to a person's head and require them to give up their possessions to support a program that I feel is worthwhile? How is it right for a person to put a gun to my head and require me to give up my possessions and wealth to support a program that I don't support? When we are forced to give up our wealth and possessions in support of good causes, whether we agree with them or not, we have lost our right to the blessings that may have flowed to us. Unfortunately, we have found through experience that many recipients of government "charity" do not improve their lot in life, but instead become dependent. Under this type of system both the giver and receiver lose freedom.
In rare cases the government may be the best entity to provide some basic social securities. Such programs should be temporary and very limited in scope with the goal of getting the recipients back on their own feet as soon as possible. Government should not exist to take away personal responsibility from the individual. To do so contributes to the loss of self worth of the individual and the degradation of society as a whole. Too many government welfare programs have metamorphosed into parasites feeding off the public purse for the sake of its own existence. Too much of our income is taken away to be spent according to the wishes of others.
I do support taxation and spending by government for security, safety and infrastructure. Society needs law enforcement, first responders, roads, bridges and utilities. These are the foundational reasons for government to exist.
How then do we address the need of the many who require assistance? How then do we help those who may not be able to help themselves? We give willingly of ourselves. We unite together in organizations, churches, and charities dedicated to serving specific needs or people. We give our money, time and other resources to programs that we feel are deserving. We combine our resources where we are able to meet the scope of the problem. We focus on getting people on their own feet and getting problems solved. We get people off of the dole and return them to a productive life, thereby reducing the number of people in need. We solve problems rather than just manage them.
I believe the responsibility for doing good belongs to the individual. You and I receive no blessings when we force another to give of their resources to fund a cause I believe in, even if I am in the majority. We receive no blessings when we are forced to give to charitable causes. The idea that we can use our vote to force others to support our religious based values tastes wrong and I can't make it taste right.
- Jarad Van Wagoner