LDS professors spread across the political spectrum

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The majority of BYU faculty and students share the same religious beliefs, but their political beliefs vary widely.

Because the majority of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the U.S. consider themselves conservative, members of the LDS Church who are liberal are in the minority, sometimes being met by criticism or misunderstanding from other Church members.

“When I was bishop, I didn’t put signs in my yard so I wouldn’t offend anybody,” said Chad Emmett, an associate professor in the department of geography.

Emmett is a registered Democrat, and tends to lean left in regard to domestic issues like welfare.

Political Superheros
Professors vary in politcal beliefs despite generalizations about BYU culture. Illustration by Sarah Hill

“I don’t think it’s fair to just say, ‘Get a job,'” Emmett said. “You read the New Testament, you read the Book of Mormon, and to me there’s plenty of scriptural motivation or justification to be engaged in these types of issues.”

Emmett said he thinks it is a good thing that members of the Church differ in political views.

“They can kind of pick and choose and end up being very conservative or very left leaning,” Emmett said. “The Church is not saying, ‘This is how you apply the gospel into your life.’ What they say is, ‘Apply it.'”

Emmett is a coauthor of “Sex and World Peace,” a book exploring how the treatment of women affects different societies throughout the world.

“My politics have evolved, and perhaps they’ve evolved as I’ve come to understand what a Mormon is, what a Christian is, what my responsibilities are,” Emmett said.

Renata Forste, a professor in the department of sociology, is also a member of the Democratic Party. She has been at BYU as a faculty member for 18 years, teaching courses in sociology and women’s studies. She shared how her understanding of the gospel has helped to shape her political views, especially welfare and women’s equality.

She expressed the need to vote based on candidates, not on political parties alone.

“Both parties take extremes on points,” Forste said.

Forste is also passionate about the education and equality for women.

“In underdeveloped countries, even secondary education has a great effect on the relationship a mother has with her kids,” Forste said.

Forste considers herself a moderate overall, though she emphasized that not every Democrat agrees with every platform the party endorses.

“I take the Church’s stance on issues like abortion,” Forste said.

Richard Gill is an associate professor in the college of life sciences, and an expert in conservation biology and ecology. He is an independent in the political realm and considers himself liberal when it comes to poverty and the protection of the environment.

“A civil society should have a safety net,” Gill said. “The only reason that the pioneers survived in the West was not because they were independent but because they were codependent.”

Gill said there needs to be a balance between human economy and environment.

“We need to have public policy that allows us to have clean air, clean water, as well as protecting wild land,” Gill said.

Each of these professors expressed that outside of Utah they were considered conservative. When they moved to Utah, they were considered very liberal in comparison to the majority of Utah County.

“When I was at Duke, living in North Carolina, there was a huge social spectrum in our ward,” Gill said. “When I moved back to Utah, it’s so dominated by (Republicans), and I’ll have neighbors that say things like, ‘I’ve never met a Democrat before.'”

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