A Majority of Mormons Embraced Trumpism. Now What?

In the end, Utah Sen. Mike Lee rejected the voter fraud conspiracy. It’s time for repentance.

A Majority of Mormons Embraced Trumpism. Now What?
Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the swearing in of Donald Trump in 2017. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on GEN

After the Capitol was cleared of rioters on January 6, lawmakers returned to the Hill to finish counting the nation’s electoral votes. Sen. Josh Hawley continued to support the voter fraud conspiracy theory by challenging Pennsylvania’s election results, but the Senate rejected his challenge by a vote of 92 to seven. Sen. Mike Lee was among the few Trump supporters who diverged from Hawley’s challenge; he registered his vote with a strident “hell no.”

Mike Lee and I are both Mormons. Mormons do not support Trump with the same fervor as some religious groups, but a majority of Mormons do support him—even though Joe Biden received the most votes of any Democratic presidential candidate in Utah since LBJ. Coming into the 2020 election, Lee was a powerful voice in that majority, and plenty of prominent Mormons joined Lee over the past four years: Former Sen. Orrin Hatch, Rep. Burgess Owens, and Rep. Chris Stewart are all Donald Trump loyalists. (Both Owens and Stewart supported the voter fraud conspiracy.) Utah’s Attorney General Sean Reyes was on the board of the election committee “Latter-day Saints for Trump.” Tim Ballard, a former DHS agent, known for his controversial anti-trafficking work, championed Trump’s border wall. Violinist Jenny Oaks Baker, the daughter of a Mormon apostle, performed at a Trump rally in August.

Mormons know repentance is not just an acknowledgment; it is an action. Repentance is not complete until we’ve made those we’ve hurt whole.

Donald Trump mined a vein of prejudice that has always run through America. Before the election, in an op-ed for Deseret News, Lee wrote of Trump, “He says things I would never say, but actions speak louder than words.” Those actions included separating vulnerable families at the border, degrading women (especially Black women), passing the Muslim ban, and stoking anti-Semitism.

In October, Lee spoke at a Trump rally in Arizona; he was there because Trump needed Mormon votes to help secure the state. It didn’t work; LDS votes were instrumental in delivering the state to Biden. Trump can hardly blame the senator; he gave it his best shot. With his collar pressing into his neck, and his finger pointing at Trump, Lee said, “To my Mormon friends, my Latter-day Saint friends, think of him as Captain Moroni. He seeks not power, but to pull it down. He seeks not the praise of the world or the fake news, but he seeks the well-being and the peace of the American people.”

In our scripture, Captain Moroni is a prophet fighting for the freedom of his people. He carries a standard called the “Title of Liberty,” which reads, “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children.”

Lee’s words may not have inspired Arizona Mormons, but they did inspire some Latter-day Saints. At the riot on Capitol Hill, a man dressed as Captain Moroni held up a homemade Title of Liberty.

The thing is, LARPing ends when insurrection begins. The rioters rallied, ready to assist Trump in seeking those in power and pulling them down. They stormed the U.S Capitol. Several people in the mob died, and rioters killed a police officer. The blood hasn’t stopped flowing; a Capitol Hill police officer who responded to the riots killed himself on Saturday.

Ashli Babbitt was the first reported death; she was killed while trying to climb into the Speaker’s Lobby through a broken window. I’ve seen the footage of Babbitt’s shooting. Dressed in black, she wears a Trump flag like a cape; screaming threats, she gets halfway through the window before being shot in the neck. At first it looks like she’s fallen backward, stunned. Police gather around to try to help. Blood starts to stream out of her mouth. Fellow rioters stand above her filming her as she dies.

Babbitt entered the Capitol with the intent to do harm. It is no great surprise or injustice that harm came to her. Babbitt was a rabid conspiracy theorist, and the reasoned rhetoric of people like Mike Lee validated her beliefs.

What do Mormons do with the members of our church who provided that validation? What do we do with Mormons who embrace racism, fascism, anti-Semitism, and every other -ism abhorrent to God? We may want to cast them out, but we must claim them. We cannot pretend they are not us.

As loathsome as I find Mike Lee’s words and actions, he is my brother. The pews of our church should be full of fallen people—he belongs there and I belong there. But too often we use our common need for redemption as a way to avoid consequence. The best way we can show love for our brothers and sisters is by telling the truth; we must be plain-speaking about the rot in our religion. The Mormons who used their platforms to support Trump need to repent, but I need to repent as well. Too often, a commitment to niceness has numbed me to wrongs propagated and perpetrated by myself and my people.

Mormons know repentance is not just an acknowledgment; it is an action. As children, we were taught the principles of repentance. Our teachers wrote the principles on chalkboards while we swung our feet. The fifth principle is “We must make restitution.” Repentance is not complete until we’ve made those we’ve hurt whole.

Church leaders need to apologize for the racist practices in Mormonism’s past. Our history of white supremacy justified Mormon support of Trump, and the oily sheen of respectability dripping from prominent Mormons anointed it. We must speak up when we discover bigotry puddling in the pews. We should engage with communities outside of our own, learn from them, and serve them. We mustn’t merely pray for better days; we must bring them about ourselves. When we offer wholeness instead of sorriness, we can forgive and be forgiven.

In 1842, our Prophet Joseph Smith said, “You are now placed in a situation where you can act according to those sympathies which God has planted in your bosoms. If you live up to these principles, how great and glorious! — if you live up to your privilege, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates.”

We are now placed in a situation where we can act. When we live up to our privilege, the angels will attend us, yes. But more blessedly we will no longer be restrained — by hate, fear, or cowardice — from one another.

Heaven yes.