William Van Wagenen helped start The Mormon Worker, a bimonthly newspaper that connects Christian anarchism and Mormonism. Van Wagenen made headlines in 2007 when he was kidnapped in Iraq while working for a group called the Christian Peacemaker Teams.
Why did you start The Mormon Worker?
Over the years, we became puzzled as to why so many Latter-day Saints were enthusiastic supporters of both capitalism and war (specifically the Iraq war). There are many passages in LDS scripture that advocate socialistic economic systems and ask Latter-day Saints to renounce war and proclaim peace.
Publishing a newspaper (modeled on the Catholic Worker) is a good way of promoting the overlooked politically radical aspects of Mormon doctrine. The Iraq war was a particularly important issue for me, since I had worked in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 for a human-rights organization and was able to see the misery and suffering the war had caused first-hand.
How do church members regard your paper?
Responses have been largely positive. There are more Latter-day Saints, including conservatives, who feel the Iraq war is wrong as well as more young people who see the contradictions between capitalism and what is taught in the scriptures. Also, the conservative views commonly attributed to most Latter-day Saints are embraced primarily by those living along the Wasatch Front, California and Arizona only. Latter-day Saints in Europe and Latin America (in other words, the majority of church members) were not Bush-supporting Republicans.
How does the Mormon Worker reconcile the Mormon faith with anarchy?
Clearly, the Mormon Church is a hierarchical spiritual institution. In that regard, the basic ideas of anarchism and Mormonism don’t go together very well. However, church authorities don’t use force to get members of the church to do what they say. Whether we obey them is our choice. Failing to pay tithing doesn’t land someone in prison, which is government’s way of getting people to do things. Secondly, in LDS scripture, there are many passages that advocate non-hierarchical political and economic institutions. In the political and economic realm, the principles of anarchism and the teachings of Mormonism are quite in harmony.
Was the LDS Church progressive in its early days?
Yes, with the exception of racism, the early LDS Church was extremely progressive. The early Mormons rejected capitalism, embraced communal economics, were largely against war and were strong advocates of women’s rights.
Who did you endorse during the 2008 election?
We didn't endorse any political candidate since voting is largely useless. Once elected, politicians owe their allegiance to special interest groups and lobbyists from corporations. These are the groups that politicians rely on for the money they need to run a campaign, thus when they get elected, these are the constituents that politicians are worried about pleasing, rather than the voters in their districts. That said, I was quite sympathetic to Ralph Nader and Cynthia Mckinney, and I was glad to see Obama beat McCain.
Are you worried your radical ideas may result in chaos within the church?
The LDS Church is more diverse than most people realize. There is room enough for anarchists and their ideas within the church, especially since anarchist ideas are more consistent with Mormonism than are the ideas espoused by conservatives or liberals.