Q&A with The Liberal Soul author Richard Davis September 22 2014
by Richard Davis
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Q: What initially motivated you to write this book?
The one-sided nature of the existing literature on the restored Gospel and politics. LDS Church members easily could reach the conclusion there is only a limited range of thought possible for members on this subject and that is a range between the economic conservatism advocated by people like Orrin Hatch and Mitt Romney and the economic libertarianism promoted by people like President Ezra Taft Benson, Cleon Skousen, and Glenn Beck.
I believe there is a third option - a view that the government can and does play a positive role (although neither the exclusive nor even the primary one) in helping bring about the type of society we all desire. That is my main point in the book.
Q: You have been actively involved in politics. How has your experience as both a political scientist and a political activist shaped the approach you take in the book?
My experience in practical politics, particularly in Utah County, has given me insights into the thinking of LDS voters about politics and the Gospel. That helped me understand their perspective in writing the book and attempting to address some misperceptions about what constitutes Church doctrine and what actually is personal opinion.
Q: Besides the fact that the book argues for a progressive Gospel-based politics, there are also some important rhetorical differences between The Liberal Soul and other LDS books on the subject. In particular, you are making an argument about a political vision that can find support in Gospel principles, rather than arguing that the Gospel demands a particular politics. Why the different approach?
I do not like the dogmatic approaches that characterize politics today generally. I think it particularly doesn't fit in the LDS Church since we seek to be inclusive rather than exclusive. It is not my intent to suggest that people who think differently don't belong in the Church or are somehow less faithful. There are already too many people who think that way. Rather, I want to help members who may believe that to understand that those who sit in the pews with them but think differently than they do on politics come at their views from a Gospel perspective as well.
Q: Is this a book primarily for liberal or conservative Mormons?
It is for LDS people generally, regardless of ideological label.
Q: Do you have any future plans, either in politics or for future book projects?
I intend to stay involved in attempting to make my community a better place and to encourage more engagement by others. I have been involved in the creation of a new Office of Civic Engagement at BYU, which seeks to stimulate civic engagement among BYU students. Additionally, I am part of the effort to create the Utah Debate Commission, which is a new group dedicated to hosting and televising candidate debates in Utah at the statewide and federal level. What I do beyond that in terms of local activism is still to be determined.