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Ralph C. Hancock
Monday, September 23 2013

The New Liberalism vs. The Restored Gospel

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That is why I feel it my duty to point out that “liberal” or “progressive” views that many take to be simply rational are in fact highly questionable.)

In questioning the assumptions of the New Liberalism, I am saying little more than is being said with increasing frequency and emphasis by our Church leaders, including in General Conference addresses. New Liberal Mormons are ever hopeful that the Prophet and Apostles will follow their lead and jump on the progressive bandwagon – or at least stop resisting it in such embarrassingly retrograde fashion. These Progressives could not have found our most recent General Conference very encouraging of their efforts to re-interpret the restored Gospel according to a New Liberal vision. On the question of the definition of marriage and sexual morality, in particular, the authorities whom we sustain could hardly have more emphatic -- as readers can confirm, if they wish, by reviewing speeches by Elders Bednar, Ballard, Perry, and Hales, just for example.

If in my analysis I have gone beyond the clear and consistent teaching of our leaders, it is simply in beginning to trace the roots of the moralistic relativism that increasingly surrounds us, and in naming it the New Liberalism. Of course I speak only for myself, but I think I am providing a service by connecting some dots in intellectual and political history. I have been very careful to distinguish the increasingly dominant New Liberalism from an older liberal, constitutional tradition that the Church, since the days of Joseph Smith, has always wanted to befriend, and with which it wisely made peace in order for Utah to become part of the United States.

Still, if you think my characterization of the New Liberalism is unfair, or that it doesn’t generally apply, I suggest the following experiment: find a person who now calls himself or herself “liberal.” Ask him (or her) what he thinks of this proposition: The sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife. It is a very good bet the self-identified liberal standing in front of you will not accept that proposition. 

Or, if you don’t want to conduct the experiment, look up what scientific opinion surveys have to say about the correlation between a self-identification as “liberal” and views on marriage, family and sexuality. (Of course it is worth noting that one can find many “conservatives,” especially those of “libertarian” leanings who will also reject the proposition. This is indeed a worthy topic for another discussion. But at least among “conservatives” you will find vastly more who support the proposition of the Family Proclamation than among “liberals” – which is to say, I’m not just making words up to suit my argument or to caricature groups I happen to disagree with.)

Let me be clear that my most fundamental concern is not with political tactics and related opinions. The strength of the New Liberalism is certainly growing in our society; I think we should do all we can to resist it, if we care about our families and our communities, but we cannot be sure we will win. How we should cope practically, politically with the collapse of a moral environment broadly supportive of certain basic LDS principles is a difficult question on which reasonable and faithful LDS can differ. The Church leaves it largely to individual members (including political candidates and office holders) to judge how best to negotiate necessary compromises in a world we can only control at the margins, if at all.

It is our duty to help make the world as good as it can be, but I do not expect all LDS to agree on the political implications of this duty. For example, faithful LDS who completely support and live by the word of wisdom may disagree on the tricky question of just what public policies regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages are best for Utah or for any other political entity. The same holds true for still more fundamental questions concerning sexual morality and our understanding of the family (absent direct guidance from our Church leaders).

Such tactical political questions are worthy of careful discussion in the light of basic moral and religious principles and of our best estimates of what may be possible. But, again, my fundamental concern here is not with public policy (however important), but with the souls of Latter-day Saints. If we disagree concerning what is politically possible, we should agree on what is optimal, at least where basic moral and religious principles are concerned.

The danger of the New Liberalism is that it is not merely a political doctrine in the practical, institutional sense; it tends increasingly, rather, to insinuate itself as a comprehensive understanding of morality and of the meaning of human existence. It presents itself as a rival to our most basic moral and religious principles, and so, if accepted uncritically, it tends to undermine, often subtly and quietly at first, Latter-day Saints’ convictions concerning moral norms governing sexuality and the family.  

It is no accident that increasing numbers of young Latter-day Saints, in particular, find themselves being convinced that to be truly moral in today’s world is to be “tolerant,” “accepting,” and “compassionate,” which the New Liberalism has redefined to mean: every person is entitled to define right and wrong for himself or herself, and God would not have us “impose our values.” But this redefinition is based on the New Liberalism’s own assumed highest value of “self-expression,” or the freedom to define good and evil for oneself. To accept the New Liberalism as somehow “rational” or “progressive” and thus beyond questioning is a grave error, and one that is eroding moral structures without which a good life is impossible, not to mention a life worthy of a Latter-day Saint.

I conclude that it is time to recognize the New Liberalism for what it is, and to question its claim to the moral and rational high ground. Neutrality is a comfortable path of least resistance, but we have reached a point where, if we truly love our neighbors and our communities and therefore care about the moral environment in which we all live, we must openly resist the influence of the New Liberalism.

(An earlier version of this argument was presented at the FAIR conference in Provo, Utah, August 1.


  1. Ralph, I am disappointed you would use "liberalism" to describe the trend addressed in the article. "Relativism" seems more appropriate, rather than demeaning a wonderful word (liberal)which is used to define the Divine, God, and a sought-after attribution.
  2. As an long-time Utah Democrat, I am surprised at how much I agree with Ralph Hancock's assessment. This New Liberalism (I would call it atheistic existentialism) is stripping the cores out of many theistic philosophical and political arguments. Latter-day Saints across the political spectrum would do well to consider his thoughts carefully.
  3. How could I be the first to comment on how correct this article is? Amen says it all.
  4. Does it not seem problematic to you to reduce ALL of "morality" to just sexual politics? Could we not just play your silly "ask a liberal this one question" game on a conservative? "Ask a conservative what they think about camels and the eye of a needle. It is a very good bet they will recite some phony-baloney nonsense about a gate with low overhead clearance." As the church's statement, "The Mormon Ethic of Civility" states, there are good principles to be found in the platforms of all major parties. There are many ways to be immoral besides breaking the law of chastity.
  5. You are so right about this subject.
  6. What Orson said. ^ Thank you. It really gets tiresome hearing over and over again that in order to be "righteous" or a "good" member of the church, you also have to be an ultra-conservative right-winger. Can we say "holier than thou?" Sheesh.
  7. Orson makes a point. The New Liberalism or relatvism or atheistic existentialism is certainly not just about sexual mores. How about the rationalization of the murder of the unborn by the New Libs? A woman's "right to choose" (to kill babies) is a major plank in today's progressive agenda.
  8. Amen! Amen! and Amen! Finally someone has put this in print. Thank you, thank you and thank you!
  9. I do not question the doctrine of the Proclamation to the World, but is it appropriate to enforce our beliefs on others? The LDS church does not believe in drinking coffee or sex before marriage yet these are not outlawed. It is a sin to to restrict others agency - unless they are using their agency to deprive others of theirs (ie rape, murder, theft, etc). When religion tries to force itself on others there will be retaliation that religions will not like. Either simply loss of popularity which harms missionary efforts or a push for further separation between church and state.
  10. I tire of these leftist propagandists masquerading as members of the church. If you find the teachings of the restored gospel so reactionary and prejudicial, then quit. No one is in the church against their will, if you aren't happy then leave. If you think women should be ordained, that sodomy should be on the same moral level as marriage, that the Book of Mormon isn't historically true, or the church is wrong because most members don't vote the way you do then there are other churches. Many mainline churches have women clergy, bless gay marriage, and think those that vote for Republicans are evil, so the hipster, intellectually inbred clique at patheos they should all just become Episcopalians they would be much happier taking up residence in Babylon.
  11. Believe it or not, a certain conception of the Good always prevails in society. It shifts with time (just ask Elder Hales, who spoke of this in the last GC), and it is molded by those voices willing to speak up to help shape and influence the direction of public mores. So in a very real sense, someone's idea of the Good is always imposed or enforced upon others, and upon us. Neutrality is a myth. To say nothing as social morality goes down the drain -- or, worse yet, to promote evil as good under the guise of tolerance and pluralism -- is to hand the birthright over for a mess of pottage. It is neither Christlike nor compassionate; it is cowardly.
  12. Believe it or not, a certain conception of the Good always prevails in society. It shifts with time (just ask Elder Hales, who spoke of this in the last GC), and it is molded by those voices willing to speak up to help shape and influence the direction of public mores. So in a very real sense, someone's idea of the Good is always imposed or enforced upon others, and upon us. Neutrality is a myth. To say nothing as social morality goes down the drain -- or, worse yet, to promote evil as good under the guise of tolerance and pluralism -- is to hand the birthright over for a mess of pottage. It is neither Christlike nor compassionate; it is cowardly.
  13. Beyond Neutrality: "I would prefer not to raise what may be vexing political questions in religious contexts. I certainly would not give a talk about The New Liberalism or any other political tendency in Sacrament Meeting. Nor would I make a point of bringing up such a subject as a home teacher, and of course not in the context of an ecclesiastical interview." This unwillingness to openly and intelligently discuss such topics that you claim to be important to the general, orthodox membership of the church is exactly what creates division and disillusionment within our congregations and among our people. With your "neutrality", you are creating an "us v. them" mentality and approaching this from a very passive aggressive stance. We are one! We are the body of Christ and when you refer to "them", you reinforce the division that is rapidly growing inside the church. Perhaps, we should seek understanding before we seek to be understood. God loves all his children no matter where they sit on political and moral issues and issues as petty and insignificant as two men or two women wanting to love each other. When has love ever been immoral? We have bigger fish to fry like the millions upon millions of people living in poverty who need to be fed - physically and spiritually. I think that's what Jesus would want us to do.
  14. I think what you're failing to get is that progressives aren't moving from "having a moral foundation" to "not having a moral foundation." They're moving from having personal ethics based on tradition, purity, and authority to ethics based on avoiding harm and preserving consent. And they're doing a very good job of pointing out the ways harm is being done to people, and their consent is being overridden, in the name of helping people who care more about (their own) authority and (their favourite) tradition pretend that people different from them don't exist.
  15. I think some here have missed the point. This is just "part 3" and when viewed with the others, it is not just about sexual mores. That is only one example within the problem. Another issue that comes to mind that is there, but not so apparent, is the new-liberalism's redefining vocabulary or hiding the severity of wrong-doing by softening the wordage to make something sound more acceptable. My opinion is that the subject that was spoken of here is SPOT ON.
  16. Since I'm not Mormon (I'm Catholic) I won't go into how I happened upon this series of articles, but I can very well imagine precisely this article being written about me by certain Catholics, since I am what they like to call a cafeteria Catholic (and I don't mind the term, though it is certainly intended to be derisive). That said, I just didn't get it. In particular, I don't understand what the test is supposed to do. If I don't accept the proposition, then... what does that show? That I maintain relativistic morality? I think it demonstrates that I recognize the difference between secular and religious marriage. Really, I found the whole premise strange. Of course I get to define the meaning of my own existence, etc (what Justice Kennedy said). How could it be any other way? Sure, I'm Catholic, but only because I choose to be. If I don't want to be Catholic anymore, should someone compel me to keep going to Mass? That can't be what you mean, but it sure seems to me that's what I read. Look, "submitting to God" can't just be so casually taken to mean "submitting to a particular church" or I guess adhering to an "authoritative structure of meaning" as you might put it. Churches are made of people. I like my priest, but he's not always right and that's ok. He's not the reason I go to Mass. So yeah, I'm a liberal Catholic. The Church is, in some measure, a conversation. We here on earth are trying to get a little closer to heaven. The U.S. is like that too - we're trying to form a more perfect union. But you don't get closer to heaven or form a more perfect union by slavishly following the leader and blindly accepting tradition. The Kingdom of Heaven is inside you. I believe that with all my heart.
  17. Hancock's question to liberals would be easier to answer if he defined "sacred powers of procreation." Is he talking about sex within the bonds of marriage or sex within the bonds of marriage which results in new life?
  18. Thank you so much for pointing out how the definitions of words, "tolerant," "accepting," and "compassionate" have become twisted and corrupted. I don't think liberalism is offering up anything "new," though. Through the ages, there have been men and women who are sure they know more than Prophets of God. I have noticed that these people have zero tolerance for those who proclaim the truth, while demanding tolerance for Godless behavior. Proclaiming the words of modern and ancient Prophets is not "imposing our values." "Imposing your values" is demanding government funding (paid by me) for abortions, demanding legalization of gay marriage, and labeling me a "hater" because I accept the word of God regarding immoral behavior.
  19. Liberalism was the perfect word to use here. Well spoken, and sadly truthful. I know our family is grateful for the heads up the Lord has given us!
  20. I have now read all three parts to this series and I find it disturbing that the author is assuming that if members are truly faithful, we will all agree with each other in our political views. This was something Ancient Greek philosophers also believed: if all of society were logical and moral, then we would all agree with each other. 2600 years later, we can look back and see with absolute certainty that this has never been the case. I look at faithful members trying to reconcile their beliefs with what the world has to offer, and I don't see an amoral philosophy wearing the hollowed out shell of religion: I see people trying to include others who are different than them. Is that really a behavior we want to paint as insidious and amoral?
  21. My biggest problem with this article is that the writer uses fear as a motivational tactic. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is based on love first, and everything else is added onto the principle and virtue of love. When fear is used as a motivational tactic, I believe that we are choosing to go away from love, and vice versa. It is fine to disagree with somebody, and it is fine to have conversations with people you disagree with, as long as your motivation is progress and love. But when fear becomes your motivation, you are not following the most important foundational principle in the gospel, which is love.
  22. Boiled down,The New Liberalism is a continuation of the pre-mortal war on Agency. Exhibit A is our current liberal federal government!

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