Mormonism and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

I have been thinking about civil rights and all of my hopes for a happy and thriving world. And as I do, all the stories and ideals that have shaped my life prick at my emotions, leaving me with a very physical feeling of hope and discouragement stretching in my chest. I no longer easily recall chapter and verse, but Mormonism was once led by radical prophets calling us to forsake the systems and power structures of the world and to build Zion. The calls of these prophets, with all their flaws, have led me to seek for the prophets speaking today. I look for the people calling us to repentance—calling us to forsake the evils that will lead to our destruction and to build the land of peace and equality that will save us.

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, these are some messages I hope we, as Mormons, as Americans, and as citizens of the world will hear. But I speak most to those like myself—American Mormons who have grown in a world of opportunities shaped by the sacrifices of our ancestors.

Laws Against Being

Only a few generations ago, laws were made specifically so that Mormons could be sent to jail and denied the vote. None of the laws said, “Being Mormon is illegal,” but every Mormon knew that's what the laws were about. Today, we have laws meant to put people of color in jail and keep them from voting. None of the laws say, “It's illegal to be black,” but that's exactly why the war on drugs was shaped the way it was. It's exactly why zoning laws, voter ID laws, and numerous other laws and policies have been made as they are. Laws are being made to protect children and women, or to make sports fair, while every trans-person knows they are really laws making it illegal to be trans.

There are prophets calling us to repent. Calling us to change the laws and treat all people justly. Calling us to stop making it illegal to be Black, poor, or foreign and for us to make everyone's vote count. I pray that we will listen.

A Home for Everyone

When Alma the Elder and his people escaped slavery, the Nephites welcomed them in and integrated them into their society. When the Anti-Nephi-Lehies fled genocide, the Nephites made a land for them and protected them from invaders following behind with their military might. We are told Zion will be a refuge for everyone who doesn't want to take up arms against their neighbor. Today, as a result of climate change and wars that we have helped create, there are more displaced people and refugees than ever before in the world. They are suffering, looking for peace and safety.

There are prophets calling us to repent. Calling us to welcome the wretched and oppressed, to integrate them into our safe society, to make lands for them, and to protect them from those who would follow behind and hurt them. I pray that we will listen.

Our ancestors left poverty and religious rigidity enforced by state and culture. They built homes in new places. They were driven from those homes repeatedly. Finally they took lands among and from Native Americans who themselves had been killed, driven, and oppressed. They had a right to places to live, to be safe, to work and have food. Today there are many within our own country lacking places to live, to be safe, to work, and to have certain and healthy food.

There are prophets calling us to repent. Calling us to stop our greed. To tax the wealthy so that we can house the unhoused, care for those who are young, old, sick, or disabled. Calling us to stop valorizing those who get rich off the labor of others, or by gaming the financial and legal systems, or who pretend that their idea work is thousands of times more valuable than the essential work of the many who realize and support their ideas and lives. Calling us to claim the dignity of human life because it is human life, and not because of what it contributes to the economy. And in respecting this human dignity and the equality of all born to this world, we will create opportunity and freedom for more and more people, instead of freedom for the wealthy, the powerful, and inhuman corporations. I pray that we will listen.

No One Is Above the Law

The Book of Mormon tells of good kings and bad kings. The good kings served their people. The bad kings made their people rich and themselves richer until it all fell apart. The good kings loved the poor. The bad kings surrounded themselves with corrupt advisers, pushed away the poor, and drove out dissidents. Under the judges, good judges were just and protected the poor. Bad judges were bought and protected themselves and the wealthy. Today we live in a country where what the typical American wants has almost no impact on what is made into law. To get anything common sense done we have to fight tooth and nail against the moneyed interests that benefit from rigging the system. We live in a country where the last President pardoned his own advisers who were convicted of crimes benefiting the President. We live in a country where chief judges have taken bribes to change the laws in favor of the wealthy and unscrupulous.

There are prophets calling us to repent. Calling us to hold our Presidents, our Supreme Court Justices, and our CEOs responsible to uphold the same moral standards most of us expect of ourselves and those around us. Calling us to make laws that benefit all, apply to all, and make the world fair and safe for all—a world that shares its plenty and its pain, not a world that hoards its plenty for the few and grows its pain for the rest. I pray that we will listen.

I and Thou

I hope that I see you as a person, and treat you as a person. I originally started a thought piece, telling the Mormon origins of my moral world, but I had to let it go. There is good work to be done. There are obvious changes we can make for a more just, equal, and peaceful world. To change, we have to listen to the prophets showing us the way forward, not those benefiting from the power and wealth they have invested in the laws and institutions that now are. I must hope that we can change the world.


Progressive Mormonism

To learn about how Mormon thought led to my progressive ideals, Hugh Nibley is probably the best source. In essays collected in two books, he uses Mormon scripture and the teachings of Mormon prophets to call us to build Zion. Both are available for 1 hour, repeated check outs on Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints. Much of this book is a call to repentance for modern Mormonism based on the words and teachings of Brigham Young. Calls for us to treat the environment well, to participate in politics but not be ruled by party politics, to renounce war, to seek out the best scholarship and to seek excellence in education, and to challenge authoritarian leadership—even if it is in the Mormon church. And this is an abbreviated list.

Approaching Zion. Here Nibley made many pointed critiques of capitalism, grounded in Mormon scripture, history, and words of modern prophets. He decried the concessions we make to accommodate the powerful, capitalist structures of America, and recognized that all that we have is a gift—even if we work hard for it—and we must be willing to share it with everyone if we are to ever have Zion.

Martin Buber

It may be better to read about Martin Buber than to read his original writing, but I've never been sorry I put in the truly hard work to read I and Thou. This philosophy, and that of C. Terry Warner in Bonds That Make Us Free had a great influence on the idealism of my 20s and 30s.


At some point I decided it was worth believing what the world was like for people of color and other oppressed groups. So I started reading their stories, and investigating the sociological evidence carefully collected, analyzed, and presented by scholars and journalists. It often didn't match up with the narratives I was accustomed to and had incorporated into my visions of Zion, but I think it's been worth the journey. If you want a reading suggestion, tell me a topic and I'll tell you if I've read something good about it. I'm no expert, but I might be able to point you toward thoughtful, compassionate, and eloquent people who are.