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Sunday, February 05, 2012

The LDS Religion and Presidential Politics

When Mitt Romney ran for President of the United States in 2008, it was only the second time in the history of the nation that a “Mormon” ran for President. The first time was in 1844 when Joseph Smith, Jr., himself, made a bid for the office. Now, Mitt Romney is running a second time along with first timer—now bowed out—John Huntsman, Jr. who is also a “Mormon.” Because of his candidacy, much ado has been made about Romney’s religion.

The increased attention to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has included both detractors and those who have attempted to at least treat the church fairly while illustrating an obvious lack of knowledge. Still, the fact that Romney’s religion is even on the radar screen shows an apparent lack of thinking when it comes to religion and presidential politics.

In 2008, the religion of another candidate for President also came under scrutiny, but not nearly to the same extent and not for the same reason. Barrack Obama’s religion was briefly examined because his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, made several hyperbolic statements along with a few racially charged ones. Absent from that scrutiny—except by Conservative talk show hosts—was the consideration of how Jeremiah Wright may have influenced the man who now sits in the White House—or plays golf somewhere near it anyway.

Still, even with Wright’s outlandish remarks, Obama’s espoused (cover, phony, whatever) religion has not received anywhere near the same scrutiny the LDS church has, nor has his religious beliefs been called into question to the same extent as has Mitt Romney’s.

In fact, this author is not old enough to remember any other candidate whose religious affiliation and beliefs have come under such scrutiny as has Mitt Romney’s. However, Catholicism was scrutinized quite closely when John F. Kennedy was running for the Presidency.

There are real fears that can be realized when a church exerts political influence. During Kennedy’s campaign, “three American-born bishops in Puerto Rico issued a statement forbidding Catholics from voting for candidates who disagreed with the Church on abortion and birth control” (JFK Library). They had enough impact on voters that it caused a down turn in Kennedy’s electoral momentum.

In October 2011, Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress labeled the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a cult. The insult is nothing new. The Church has been called a cult since its founding in 1830. Few allegations are further from the truth.

The truth is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is now a world-wide religion having a greater number of members living outside the United States than within the nation’s borders. Though there are some doctrinal differences with most other Christian churches, the LDS Church holds Jesus Christ and his teachings at the center of its doctrines and discussions.

Latter-day Saints all over the world believe that Jesus Christ is their personal savior, that the family is the foundation and building block of society, and that individuals are responsible for their own actions. For a summary of doctrinal beliefs, please read The Articles of Faith.

As with the Kennedy campaign, there has been a palpable fear that Romney will take his marching orders from the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. However, while the church has been and is outspoken on certain political issues (California’s Prop 8 is one that sticks in people’s craw), it has not, to this writer’s recollection, spoken either in favor or against any particular candidate whether local, state or national, nor has it tried to directly influence any candidate whatsoever. In fact, Gordon B. Hinckley, the 15th President of the Church, stated:

The Church does not endorse any political party or any political candidate, nor does it permit the use of Church buildings and facilities for political purposes. We believe that the Church should remain out of politics unless there is a moral question at issue. And in the case of a moral issue we would expect to speak out on our view. But, in the matter of everyday political considerations, we try to remain aloof from those as a Church, while at the same time urging our members, as citizens, to exercise their political franchise as individuals. And we believe, likewise, that it is in the interest of good government to permit freedom of worship, freedom of religion. Our official statement says, ‘We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may’ [A of F 1:11] (press conference, Tokyo, Japan, 18 May 1996).

The Church has spoken out on gambling, same-sex marriage, slavery, pornography, abortion and other issues of morality. When the church gets involved, it is rarely to tell the people or the government how to do anything or how to live one’s life. Rather, The Church seeks to impede such legislation as it perceives will promote the decay of society.

Still, because the church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, it has an interest in practicing good citizenship in the United States. Its leaders who are citizens of the United States participate in the electoral process while those who are citizens of other nations vote in their nation’s elections, but none of the leaders instruct or mandate what the general membership of the church should or should not do in politics per the guidelines quoted above by President Hinckley.

The reason behind this is really two-fold: first, Latter-day Saints believe that the United States Constitution
was divinely inspired, and second, Latter-day Saints believe in the rule of law.
The Doctrine and Covenants, a book of revelations received mostly by Joseph Smith and is held as scripture by Latter-day Saints, says:

77 According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the brights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;
78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.
79 Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in abondage one to another.
80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the bshedding of blood. (Doctrine and Covenants 101:77-80)

In the midst of stagnated progress in 1787 during the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin offered this address:

In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in the political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little, partial local interests; our projects will be confounded; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war, or conquest. I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business. (Revolutionary War and Beyond)
Shortly afterward, Franklin defended the Constitution from the Anti-Federalists when he said:
I beg I may not be understood to infer, that our general convention was divinely inspired when it formed the new federal constitution, merely because that constitution has been unreasonably and vehemently opposed; yet, I must own, I have so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence, that I can hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance to the welfare of millions now existing, and to exist in the posterity of a great nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler, in whom all inferior spirits live, and move, and have their being.
The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And, there are many other quotes from founders and framers alike that either declare openly or allude to the recognition of Divine inspiration in the birth of the United States of America. When we consider the men who framed the Constitution, it is easy to see that they, and—by extension—the Constitution, were indeed inspired.

In addition to the Divine inspiration of the Constitution, Latter-day Saints believe in the rule of law as expressed in the 12th Article of Faith: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

Latter-day Saints are encouraged to do their civic duties and to uphold the law. The church respects the rule of law and encourages the members to do likewise. In the 1880s, Congress passed a string of laws ultimately declaring plural marriage to be unlawful and that Utah was to be denied statehood for as long as polygamy was recognized as a lawful practice within its borders. Wilford Woodruff, who was President of the Church from 1887-1898 observed:
Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise” (Official Declaration—1 : 4).
Consequently, in recognition of the benefits of statehood and realizing that Latter-day Saints were not the only residents of the territory, the Church officially ended the practice on September 24th, 1890.

Note that President Woodruff advocated that he would use his influence to encourage the members of the Church at large to submit to the law. He did not encourage rebellion or going underground with a now illegal practice; however, the practice as a whole ended in 1904 when Wilford Woodruff’s successor, Joseph F. Smith, called for a complete ban on plural marriage worldwide.

There hasn’t been a plural marriage performed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since then. Today, any member who engages in plural marriage is excommunicated. Additionally, President Gordon B. Hinckley said in 1998,
plural marriage is against the law of God. Even in countries where civil or religious law allows [the practice of a man having more than one wife], the Church teaches that marriage must be monogamous and does not accept into its membership those practicing plural marriage” (“What Are People Asking about Us? Oct. 1998 general conference).
Those who teach that polygamy is an acceptable practice are not a part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Latter-day Saints are law abiding people. However, when it comes to issues and candidates, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints vote the full breadth of the political spectrum. They are Progressive, Moderate, Conservative, Libertarian and everything in between. Unfortunately, on the national stage, Conservative Latter-day Saints seem to be poorly represented only because the three biggest names that come to mind are Huntsman, Romney and Reid. The first two are moderates and the last a Progressive.

Including the Progressive, Harry Reid (D)—Nevada, there are five Latter-day Saint Senators sitting in congress. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah are both Conservative Republicans with the former being more establishment but fair minded and the latter being a Tea Party favorite in the 2010 election. Mike Crapo is a Conservative Republican from Idaho. Finally, Tom Udall is a Democratic Senator from New Mexico. Whether or not he’s a hard core Progressive like Reid is uncertain to this author; however there are indications that he is Left of Center on most issues.

Latter-day Saints serving in the U.S. House of Representatives include: Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a Conservative, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, a Conservative, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nevada Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa (Source: http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/60334/15-Mormons-serving-in-US-Congress.html).

A look at their voting records will show that Latter-day Saint representation in Congress covers the entire political spectrum. The only conclusion that can be drawn is the truth, and that is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not dictate political positions to its members. It does, however, teach principles that its members then apply, in their own way, to political issues and politics in general.

Latter-day Saints believe in a concept known as free agency which means simply that all individuals are free to choose for themselves. In other words, while the church may take a certain position on any given issue, its membership may take an alternative position. As was indicated earlier, the church will usually only engage in politics when there is a moral element involved. Even then, however, its membership is free to make their own decisions concerning any given issue. The end result is that there are Latter-day Saints who support hard core Progressive ideals, and Latter-day Saints who support hard core Conservative ideals, and Latter-day Saints who are Progressive on one issue and Conservative on the next. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught the only realistic way of assessing a Latter-day Saint’s political philosophy when he said, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Mat 7:20).

Consequently, when scrutinizing Romney or any other Latter-day Saint candidate, consider how he lives his religion—does he live as every Christian should? How does he hold up to the beatitudes? Does he care for the poor, the sick, the needy and the afflicted? Does he act like a Latter-day Saint should? In other words, how do his beliefs as a Latter-day Saint influence who he is as an individual and a candidate, and how will they influence his decisions once in office? However, such scrutiny should inform but not determine one’s decision. Romney has a track record and stated positions. Base your decision on them, not his religious affiliation.