Karl Marx famously called religion the opiate of the masses. Yet history provides us with numerous examples of individuals and groups who, far from being oppressed or subdued by religion, are empowered by it. Think St. Paul, Joan of Arc, Thomas More, Elizabeth Fry, the abolitionists, or Martin Luther King, Jr. For these deep believers, religion wasn’t a sedative, but a stimulant–a tremendous motivator that stirred up an extraordinary alchemy of spiritual authority and political activity. When brought toe-to-toe with institutional and individual abuses of power, the believers prevailed, leading to significant and lasting change that shaped generations. Undeniably, every one of us is in one way or another a beneficiary of faith-fueled political activism.
Not unlike the deep believers of history, there are people joining forces today to form a human retaining wall against the moral and ethical mudslide threatening the stability of our City on the Hill. A wave of religio-political activism is gathering. People of faith — and of many diverse faiths — are galvanizing a growing resistance to what they deem are multiple offenses perpetrated in the highest office of the land. Citizens from across the political, geographic, and religious landscapes—progressives, conservatives, moderates; urban, coastal, Midwestern, southern, expatriated; Jews, Catholics, Baptists, Protestants, Muslims—are rallying in the defense of democracy and decency, calling for a return to dignity and integrity in our government.
One such activist group is Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG), founded in response to the current administration’s first executive orders calling for The Wall and The Ban. From its conception by six founding associates, all of whom affirm abiding devotion to their Christian faith, MWEG has grown with wildfire speed, drawing thousands into its ranks in only its first few weeks of existence. Members come from diverse backgrounds ranging from Ivy League university professors, lawyers, and political scientists to grandmothers who place daily telephone calls to their elected officials; from seasoned political advocates based in Washington D.C., to women across the world who call themselves “accidental activists.” Despite the widespread perception that Mormons are doggedly conservative and overwhelmingly loyal to the Republican party, MWEG’s membership demonstrates a much wider range of political thinking, from those who opted for Mormon outsider candidate Evan McMullin to others who felt the Bern; from liberals who stumped for Hillary in red pantsuits to true blue Republicans who voted for Trump and have since become bitterly disillusioned.
MWEG members are united not only by their opposition to what is happening in US politics (which sends its repercussions across the globe), but also by adherence to the Six Principles of Nonviolent Resistance as modeled by Gandhi and Dr. King. Their peacefulness should not be misconstrued as apathy, however; they march under a banner that states: “We will not be complicit by being complacent.”
Even more fundamental is their discipleship to Jesus Christ. It is faith’s trumpet that ought to reduce to rubble the walls of our echo chambers, calling us out of confining poverty or privilege and propelling us to act. As one MWEG member recently wrote: “Religion is not the opiate that keeps true disciples slumbering, it is the spark, or catalyst for courage in action. My religion does not pacify my worries, it fuels my drive to go harder, faster, longer, clinging to my faith in Christ to strengthen me, to lead me, to prevail when my own human weakness threatens to destroy.” Another member concurs: “It is my faith in my Savior Jesus Christ and my lifelong devotion to Mormonism that inspire my activism. It is the keen leadership and organizational skills I’ve learned as a Mormon woman that have empowered me and thousands of others like me to get major stuff done.”
And what has MWEG done?
MWEG has organized 38 state, regional, and international chapters, in addition to 32 committees and subcommittees focusing on specific issues such as anti-discrimination, education, environment, healthcare, and immigration. In less than six months, this network of women has created an impressive structure that already has facilitated fleet responses to both local and national crises.
MWEG members have held press conferences and staged vigils drawing attention to unethical deportations of Dreamers and other non-criminal immigrants; published op-eds and open letters calling for reform, for action from elected leaders, and opposing measures or bills they consider unethical; sponsored postcard blitzes and phone campaigns to members of Congress; hosted bridge-building events with Muslims, refugees, and others in their communities; actively opposed racism in all its forms; and partnered with other organizations to send aid to refugees and to fight poverty. On their website and other social media platforms, they post daily calls to action targeting issues such as Russian ties to the current administration, conflicts of interest, and healthcare. They have joined with other nonpartisan groups to form coalitions, encouraged and helped train women to run for local and state offices, and sponsored lectures to better inform the general public. Eschewing profanity, vulgarity, and violent confrontation, this battalion of Mormon women continues to quietly, confidently stand fast against unethical governance.
Should that surprise? Not really. Since Mormonism’s fragile infancy, when its adherents were targeted for deportation and even extermination, when they were cruelly chased out of their homes and eventually into the deserts of the far west, political engagement has often dovetailed with Mormon women’s church affiliation.
Thanks primarily to early Mormon suffragists who befriended Susan B. Anthony and marched with her for gender equality, Utah was the second territory in the Union to give women the vote. Their faith did not leave them void of critical thought, wringing (or sitting on) their hands. Despite what Marx and other anti-religionists would argue, those church ladies’ focus on the hereafter did not detach them from the hardscrabble here-and-now. They not only marched; they wrote treatises, spoke publicly, and met with lawmakers. They owned their innate moral force, and were confident in their ability to use it–not for self-promotion, but for the preservation of their families and society; not for some short-lived triumph, but for the well-being and blessing of all humankind for generations to come.
And so it is with today’s Mormon Women for Ethical Government. They call on all citizens to rise up against corruption, in a movement free from the corruptive agents of violence, fear-mongering and self-service. They understand that no movement, as no person, can hope to combat the suffering that evil men cause by descending to that same evil. They are committed to fight without hypocrisy, but with dignity, self-restraint, and charity.
The moral bedrock upon which our nation was built is being compromised. The foundation of democracy and dignity feel sandy and unstable beneath our feet. The tide of deteriorating ethics is rising too close to the City on the Hill. This is the time for righteous outrage to find its spine and spirit, and for ethical, principled integrity to be the least–not the most–we demand of ourselves and our leaders.
If you are interested in joining or finding out more about our organization, visit http://www.mormonwomenforethicalgovernment.org/ or our Facebook page. You needn’t be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to join us. However, you must be a woman.
Contributing authors:Melissa Dalton-Bradford, Nancy Tubbs Harward, Sharlee Mullins Glenn and Linda Hoffman Kimball
©Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2017. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.
© All images courtesy of Megan Lagerberg for MWEG