Where are the Mormon “Nuns on the Bus”?

“Where are our nuns on the bus?” a progressive LDS friend wondered aloud late last week, after hearing Sister Simone Campbell take the DNC podium. 

“I am my sister’s keeper; I am my brother’s keeper,” Campbell declared, criticizing the Ryan budget for cutting taxes for the wealthy at the expense of programs like food stamps.

There is no equivalent voice of conscience coming from the Mormon faith tradition.

To be sure, there are Mormon Democrats—who announced their presence proudly last week at a DNC event featuring the ever-pugilistic Senator Harry Reid urging his co-religionists to “worry less what the neighbors think” when it comes to standing up for progressive politics in Mormon contexts.

And there are voices in the Mormon wilderness (see here and here and here) that try to recall contemporary LDS people to our faith tradition’s history of economic communitarianism and teachings in the Book of Mormon about prideful wealth and inequality leading to the downfall of civilizations.

But instead of iconic nuns on busses, the iconic image Mormonism has given the world of late is suited young male missionaries marching on their way to suited business careers.

The Mormon businessman—think Marriott, Romney, Covey, Jet Blue’s David Neeleman—is the emergent Mormon image of the last two decades. Author Jeff Benedict promotes the image in his book The Mormon Way of Doing Business. Coverage of profit-driven LDS Church business practices (including the opening of a Church-owned luxury mall) in Businessweek and elsewhere this year have also contributed to the national imagination of the Mormon businessman.

But is this image just an emerging Mormon stereotype? There are, after all, probably just as many failed Mormon businessmen as there are successful ones—never mind the thousands upon thousands of impoverished and working-class Mormons in the U.S. and the Global South.

And despite the iconic emergence of the suited LDS mogul, it’s not that Mormons don’t care about the poor. In the recent Pew Forum survey, 73% of Mormons said that “working to help the poor” was “essential to being a good Mormon”—versus only 49% saying that “not drinking tea and coffee” (one of the strongest markers of contemporary Mormon identity) was essential. But an equally high proportion of Mormons surveyed by Pew favor a smaller government providing fewer services.

It hasn’t always been this way: during the New Deal, Utah Mormons benefitted tremendously from federal programs and voted repeatedly for Roosevelt, despite Church leaders’ warnings not to do so. But Mormons (especially the highly active Book-of-Mormon-belt Mormons surveyed by the Pew) now take justifiable pride in the LDS Church’s own extensive internal welfare system—complete with ranches, canneries, and storehouses nationwide. Perhaps Mormon views of federal programs are shaped by a belief that the Church is now a more trustworthy and efficient distributor of relief than the federal government.

But if this is really the view of LDS people, it’s a reflection of how isolated we are from serious faith-based national policy conversations.

Where Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and other people of faith are reasoning together about difficult economic policy matters, it is now a common refrain that the national budget is a “moral document” that reflects the priorities and commitments we share across faith traditions. Government in this view becomes a trans-faith collaboration in blunting the impacts of structural economic adjustments on the most vulnerable—the elderly, children, the poor.

What moral priorities does the budget backed by Mitt Romney and the Businessguys in Suits reflect?