Monday, August 24, 2009

The Debate: Mormonism and Healthcare Reform

I was on Facebook the other day and I saw something extremely unusual. A colleague of mine posted a note urging his friends to support the President’s pitch for healthcare reform. [Insert shock and whispers here.]

Why is that so unusual? Because 70% of my 520 Facebook friends live in Utah and 99% of those individuals are devout Mormons, including my note-posting friend. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are notoriously conservative, and the vast majority are opposed to President Obama’s healthcare reform policies. Traditional principles of self-sufficiency and individualism, fiscal prudence and suspicion of Big Government combine to deter most Mormons in Utah from supporting a large, federal takeover of the healthcare system.

But enter Steven Thatcher. Steven’s pro-Obama Facebook note got me thinking about those few Mormons in the area that are vocally supportive of the Democrats’ healthcare agenda (he’s the only one I know of—and I know a lot of people). Who are these political outsiders? Are they frustrated by Utah’s shameless conservatism? Does their Mormonism have anything to do with their liberal-leaning ideologies?

Well, Steven had answers to all those questions. He runs a blog at where he often posts about his dedicated passion toward healthcare reform, frequently using his Mormon upbringing as the basis for many of his political views.

“Mormon theology is very interested in city and community-building—that we can’t get where we’re going without each other,” says Steven. “This principle underlies my belief that societies are richer and, in the long run, better off by healing the medically uninsured.”

Steven believes that a good Mormon is one that helps others in need, and that the 45 million or so Americans without health insurance are unquestionably in dire need. He insists it is society’s responsibility to care for those that cannot care for themselves, and that his Mormonism only augments his petition for universal healthcare. Steven’s background as a Special Ed teacher and his wife’s job as a nurse also contribute to his outlook, he says.

Steven doesn’t expect Obama’s original healthcare plan to pass easily in Congress, and neither to I. Town hall meetings and angry constituents are just the tip of this sizzling iceberg, especially here in Provo. Folks here are troubled with the idea that the government may play a larger, more expensive role in America’s healthcare system.

So do all those conservatives in Mormon Country chase Steven around with pitchforks and hymnals? Nah.

“I’m pleasantly surprised by how many of my LDS peers are friendly, if not supportive, of President Obama. Many seem unsure of their commitment, since Utah is the reddest state in the nation, and very likely the majority of them have conservative parents who do not support the President’s agenda. And though I’m sure I am still in the significant minority in Utah with a liberal leaning, I feel comfortable and open in expressing my views.”


  1. You have hit on one of the primary divides in LDS politics I believe. We all want (left, right, center) to be charitable and take care of those in need. I believe the difference in opinion occurs as to the best way to do it. In my experience, those that lean to the left tend to support government providing for those in need. While those leaning to the right tend to favor extended family, religious organizations, and private charities filling this role. I personally like the ability to choose to help those in need, rather than being mandated by a government organization to do so through taxes. Having the government force charity through mandated programs (funded by tax dollars) seems to remove my agency in wanting to assist those in need.

  2. And yet you tithe 10% to the church through a similar sort of 'tax'. And that money is spent in a way you also have no agency over...

    1. We are not forced to pay a tithe. We are however forced to pay taxes, and being forced to do anything denies us our agency, which is God's greatest gift to man.

  3. How many people that do not want healthcare reform in Utah and don't have insurance with their companies have actually tried to get health insurance for their families? How many people that are self employed have had to give up on their business because they can't start a business plus provide health insurance for their families. For all of you that have insurance through their work..........(btw, I do), do we really get the need out there to cover everyone? Sure, I like to think I can help my neighbor, but do you want to raise $15,00 to $100,000 for every family in need? I work in the healthcare arena.........and I know.

  4. I am a Mormon, and a passionate advocate of universal health care. Relying on family for health care needs may have been a viable option 40, 50 or 100 years ago. Not anymore. Skyrocketing costs are destroying this country. Medical bills are the #1 cause of bankrupty, even for insured familes:

    Aside from the purely logical and obvious need for reform, I feel Mormon principles dictate the communal necessity to care for those who cannot care for themselves (and with clearly charities and religious organziations are not getting the job done). Whether you like it or not, Christ's teachings were very "communistic" in nature. Mormon conservatism is a paradox, and a relatively new phenomemon that directly contradicts our principles.

  5. We do not choose how our tithes are spent, but we have the choice whether or not we pay them. We also have the choice to contribute additional offerings to a variety of causes we can select to give to (humanitarian aid, missionary work, education, etc.). We also give monthly a fast offering donation that specifically benefits the needy. This amount is not predetermined, we are just given a general guideline of what "two meals" would cost for the family. Many give more than this because they choose to although they are not required to do so.

    My husband and I went through a period of time where we were not covered by insurance through work and we paid out-of-pocket for a policy on our own. We were young, healthy adults, but chose to do it because we felt it was responsible and gave us peace of mind. Some of these people (not all) choose not to purchase insurance and buy "wants" instead. I don't want to pay for someone's health insurance who decided to buy a boat instead.

    I don't feel conservatism is paradoxical for LDS. While I can see how some would think Christ's teachings appeared "communistic" in nature, I disagree that they were. The element of choice is removed when something is mandated by government. How well did the law of consecration work for the early Saints? It didn't because people weren't ready to live the higher law and were imperfect. Someone forcing you to do this (namely the government) will just meet resistance. People must choose to do this for it to work.

  6. To say that Christ's teachings were "communistic" is a red herring. Communism is godless, anti-individual rights, soulless, and more akin to Lucifer's plan of "saving everyone" in spite of individual choice and accountability. It removes the difficulty of choice and thus growth through experiencing consequences. How easy it is (morally) to pay taxes and not have to think of about solving problems from the perspective of personal responsibility versus writing a check for offerings that come from a thoughtful, involved discipleship. One of the purposes of this life experience is to strengthen our moral and spiritual capacities. It has been demonstrated that when people rely on government programs to respond to a calamity, the amount given is less than what would have been raised from individual donations. (Unless the calamity is in New Orleans, then tens of billions have been given with no accountability and without much to show for it.)

    There were two highly favored societies in scripture that we can look to for an example: the city of Enoch and the Nephite civilization for 200 years after Christ's appearance. In both all things were in common: material and spiritual. One may say, simplistically, that was communistic. However the simple sharing of goods is not what made them so advanced. That oneness was only a result of something higher. The underlying principle that distinguished both was Christlike love. They truly loved the Lord and one another and gave freely so that all may be edified. They were not compelled. They gave and received from hearts attuned to the Lord and his righteous principles. The people had faith in the principles of righteous government. There were no "elitists", no advocacy groups, no graft, corruption, lobbyists, attacks on faith, morality, or family. No government program can compel the people to such achievement. That is why agency is quintessential. The happiness and peace came from within. That is what sustained them for so long. Eventually the Nephites lost this love and became self centered and proud.

    A favorite mantra of the left has been "You can't legislate morality". Why then do they think they can overcome human nature with legislation? The end game of the current administration (and members of both political parties) is not a society of loving people, it is merely power, profit, privilege, and prominence for them and their circle of elites. Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.

  7. "Having the government force charity through mandated programs (funded by tax dollars) seems to remove my agency in wanting to assist those in need."

    Fair enough Molly, but this is not simply a matter of charity. This is about fixing a healthcare system threatens our entire economy.

    And government use of tax money to fix healthcare does not interfere with your agency any more than government use of tax money to fund public education, public libraries, public roads, or unnecessary wars (well, maybe public roads).

    How many people making this "anti-socialist/ redistribution-of-wealth" argument are ready to take Medicare away from grandma and public education away from Tiny Tim? A few, but I think most apply this logic to liberal causes they are pre-disposed to opposing without recognizing its application to policies they support.

    -- Peter Priesthood

  8. There is not a lot of specific direction in scripture on the topic of government health care. More often than not we are left to sort out the specifics based on some basic principles.

    1. Take care of the poor.

    2. Be self sufficient.

    There is an obvious paradox here. If everyone were self sufficient, there would be no poor and no need for principle 1. Yet, here we are with plenty of unmet needs.

    The answer comes in definitions:

    "And there were no poor among them" can either mean that all people had the exact same amount of resources, or it can mean that all were expected to contribute as they were able, and those with more or less were not spiteful of the other. There were simply none defined as poor. That there were no 'ites' or poor does not mean that there was no differences from one person to another. If you are poor, you must still work to care for others and push toward self sufficiency. If you are rich, you similarly must reach out.

    Of course there were those that needed assistance, as they were not able to cover their basic needs. We have a duty to the old, the infirm and the very young. This is different from government entitlements. Many clamoring for entitlements resent anyone that has more then they do. Everything that happens to them is unfair, and someone else's responsibility.

    Then there are those that want entitlements so they can wash their hands of their responsibility to the poor. They think that if they pass a progressive tax on the "rich", the poor will be cared for and they don't have to get involved. These are the worst of all. Statistically these so called progressives give very little of their time or money to help the poor. This is a broad brush that is not true of all, but many push for government involvement to abdicate their responsibility. If you want a higher tax to help the poor, show us your commitment by contributing your higher portion first.

    Then there are those that do their charity to feel superior. They hold their charity fund raising parties at a safe distance from those they help (or worse, they bring the giftees to put them on display). While they demand responsibility from themselves or their own children, they look at the poor with pity and loathing. Their patronizing charity doesn't expect any effort from those they 'help'. Their help becomes not a strengthening nutrient, but a sickening syrup of dependency.

  9. Peter-
    I think government doesn't belong in education. It can be done more efficiently by private entities. Parents are primarily responsible for their children's education (me included). Families and communities can band together to educate children, but the Federal Government should stay out of it. If any government should be involved, it should be done at the state level.

    Government's purpose is infrastructure and public safety. Sure no one wants to see Granny's Medicare taken away, but it wouldn't have to be if it wasn't given to her in the first place. All it does is create a cycle of dependence, which reduces freedoms in general.

  10. Fun to watch Molly, over a period of six months, totally cross the line into Crazy Town.

    You've got a frontier spirit, Molly, and I dig that. But you're stuck in 1890 Utah.

    These days, education IS infrastructure, and it's as indispensable as the national highway system. And within the next few years, medical care will become part of the national infrastructure as well. We'll be better off for it.

  11. Molly! You've got it all right! Thanks for your comments!

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