I’ve spent some time reading other blogs lately and there seem to be two very popular hot subjects people love to write about. The upcoming, 2012 Elections and The Book of Mormon Musical. Both of which I know virtually nothing about. However, politics and government are two things I know a lot about. All 4 years of High School I participated in Policy debate, and to be honest, it was something I was quite good at and loved. I, eventually, plan to continue in a career dealing with government and politics and hope to continue to serve others; but in a very different way than as a missionary.
As a missionary, however, politics is something that has virtually disappeared from my life. But, I like it that way. And as an official representative of the Church we’re counseled not get into any political discussions. Additionally, we don’t watch TV or read the newspaper. As a result, I know nothing of current events, government, or politics. But, I was intrigued by two articles today. The first was a statement by LDS Newsroom on Political Neutrality.
The second was an article by LDS Newsroom author and Church Public Affairs Director; Michael Otterson.
Here is the official stance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on its role in political affairs.
The Church’s mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in matters of party politics. This applies in all of the many nations in which it is established.
The Church does not:
- Endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms.
- Allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes.
- Attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to. This policy applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- Attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader.
The Church does:
- Encourage its members to play a role as responsible citizens in their communities, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections.
- Expect its members to engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner, respecting the fact that members of the Church come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences of opinion in partisan political matters.
- Request candidates for office not to imply that their candidacy or platforms are endorsed by the Church.
- Reserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church.
In the United States, where nearly half of the world’s Latter-day Saints live, it is customary for the Church at each national election to issue a letter to be read to all congregations encouraging its members to vote, but emphasizing the Church’s neutrality in partisan political matters.
Relationships With Government
Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated Church position. While the Church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent.
Modern scriptural references to the role of government: Doctrine and Covenants, Section 134
Michael Otterson was writing to a man named Warren Cole Smith, who blatantly expressed that a “mormon” should have no part in politics. In the words of Michael Otterson
A week or so ago I read an essay by evangelical journalist and author Warren Cole Smith, suggesting that voting for a Mormon – any Mormon – was a less than responsible thing to do. I found its logic profoundly disturbing.
Some very good conversations between evangelicals and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been going on for years. I hope there will be more, and that they’ll be instructive and mutually respectful. Conversation is the beginning of understanding. But too often we see reactions to old stereotypes, like this one. So here is my open letter to Warren Cole Smith in response to his assertions.
Like Michael Otterson, I find the statements by Mr. Smith profoundly ignorant and it highlights how severely misunderstood Mormons still are. However, I think the article written provided the best response.
“I believe a candidate who either by intent or effect promotes a false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve.”
Who decides, Warren, that one religion is acceptable and another “false and dangerous”? Do you? Does the church that you attend? Since you aren’t calling for Mormons to be legally barred from the highest office in the land, is your idea just to effectively marginalize Mormons and make it impossible for them to run for office? Do you feel the same way about other faiths that are different from yours? Catholics, perhaps? Isn’t there something called Article VI, a constitutional provision that forbids a religious test for political office? “…No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” What does that mean – what has it ever meant – if it doesn’t apply in a case like this?
What it seems you would like me and six million other Mormons in the U.S. to do is concede a fundamental right granted to all Americans because we don’t fit within your definition of what is theologically acceptable. Fortunately, that’s not what the Constitution says, and it’s not what America teaches. I should hope that I can sit one of my grandchildren on my knee and tell them that in our religiously diverse society they are as good as anyone else, and that they will be judged by the fruits of their lives and not by discriminatory interpretations of their faith.
With the greatest respect, Warren, your position is unreasonable, un-Christian and untrue to American ideals. Neither is it typical of the Christians I know, or of those writing at your venue. Mormons across the country live side by side with evangelicals as neighbors, work associates and friends. There is much that they share. And by the way, despite my clear disagreement with some of your theology, I would have absolutely no problem voting for an evangelical who was in every way qualified to be president of the United States.
It’s time to overcome unfounded fears, to stop propounding them, and to start trying to understand each other better. If you want to talk theology, then let’s get beyond the laundry list of trivia that typically crops up in the news media, and get to the substantial issues – interpretation of the Bible, additional scripture, the purpose of life. Hopefully our next interaction can be a personal one.
I honestly wish that those who have questions, problems, or concerns about the Church and who we are would talk to someone who knows the truth. You don’t go to a Ford dealer to find out about a Chevy. I’ve had very profound and powerful experiences as a missionary trying to resolve stereotypes one person at a time. The most common words said to me as we knock on doors is, “I’m not interested.” It’s a great opportunity to ask “Why?” and then to ask, “Well, what do you know about Mormons and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” 9 times out 10 very little is known and it gives me an opportunity to explain my beliefs.
Is this election season going to bring media attention to provide an opportunity for others to understand who Mormons are and what we truly believe? I don’t know, and to be honest I don’t think it really matters. The real opportunity comes for members of the church to step up and help clear these misconceptions and help others to come and see for themselves the blessings that come from the restored church of Jesus Christ. Regardless of the outcomes and misunderstandings, it will never change what I know is true. That God loves us, Joseph Smith was his Prophet, and the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I just pray all of us will come to, share what I share, feel what I have felt, and to know what I know.