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Matthew Jelalian: Values over control

December 16, 2018
Matthew Jelalian poses for a portrait in the Daily Herald studio on Friday, March 6, 2015. SAMMY JO HESTER, Daily Herald

There’s a conversation happening within Mormonism that Utah’s Republican Party could stand to learn from.

In certain corners of the Latter-day Saint world, there’s a lot of talk about “Big Tent Mormonism.” The idea is that the world is big enough for people from all parts of the faith’s spectrum.

Mormonism is more than just The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ most orthodox members. Big Tent Mormonism tries to make space for doubters, converts, the disaffected, those who drink Coca-Cola and a variety of others. It recognizes that the world is bigger and richer than the two-dimensional images that we create to make sense of things.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a great talk which essentially promoted the idea of Big Tent Mormonism. In it, he compared church members to choir singers. According to Holland, it is a difference in voices that give a choir its richness and depth. Similarly, it is our differences that give out collective faith more richness and depth.

What I gathered from Holland’s talk is that it’s better that we have a deep, rich faith than cookie-cutter one. And this idea resonates with me.

I’d generally consider myself a supporter of Big Tent Mormonism, but even I recognize that a big tent has walls. I think most Latter-day Saints agree that there is room for differing points of view too. Where I think we differ the most is where the walls of the tent should be. And that’s the exact problem that the current Utah Republican Party has, too.

The conversation of who gets included and who gets excluded from party politics typically centers around initiatives such as Count My Vote. CMV proponents say that without the work they’ve done, the party doesn’t represent its members. Their argument is that the caucus/convention system is run by the fringes of the party and that, by giving party members other ways onto the ballot allows those other Republican voices to be heard.

Opponents to these kinds of measures say that party control of the ballot is the only real control they have. Their argument is that the day you allow people to bypass the caucus/convention system is the day you no longer get to define your own party.

One side wants a Big Tent Republican Party where everyday members have more direct control while the other side wants the caucus-convention system to strike that needed balance between representation and party maintenance.

Just like with Big Tent Mormonism, I think that a Big Tent Republican Party is a good thing. In my mind, part of what makes a conservative a conservative is the recognition that competition is a good thing. That includes a competition of ideas. Competition creates better ways of doing things and better ways of thinking.

The moment we make it harder for people in the party to be heard is the moment we start stifling that competition. The moment we make it harder for someone to participate in party politics is the moment we as a party choir lose our richness and depth. That being said, much like with Mormonism, even I have to recognize that there are walls somewhere.

To me, it’s much more important that we talk about where those walls are and how we build them, rather than if they should exist. Do we build the wall between registered party members and caucus leaders? Do we build the wall along ideological lines? What do these walls even look like? Are these walls an inability to use the party’s name when you run for office or do they look like a social norm we try to enforce?

I’d rather see walls that keep out fringe ideologies than registered party members. I’d also rather see these walls that look like party members refusing to support bad candidates rather than party members being unable to support other good candidates.

Instead of building a system that lets us control who gets on the ballot, let’s build a party that doesn’t support bad people on the ballot at all. Instead of holding onto power, let’s hold on to values.

I’d rather party leaders show other registered Republicans that party affiliation doesn’t change whether or not a given characteristic is OK. It seems like the constant bickering about who gets to control the party misses the larger point.

Getting good people with good values on the ballot is more important who gets to make that decision. I’d rather see moral Democrats win elections than immoral Republicans.

Let’s focus on building a party of values instead of a party of control. Let’s build a party that values patriotism over nationalism, capitalism over consumerism and individualism over racism.

Building that culture is always going to be more important than who controls the party’s election process. Because without that culture, no one worth voting for is ever going to win an election.

It doesn’t matter how much you control the process. As Republicans continue to have this ongoing conversation about who gets to control the party, I hope they start to see that party values mean more than party control. We stand to lose a lot if we forget that.

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