Voting Mormon

Shawn Larsen Culture, homosexuality, Mormon, politics 42 Comments

In a previous post, I explored the idea of defining “political” vs. “moral” issues for purposes of deciding when (and how) the Church should get formally involved. A related issue is whether we, even without formal instruction from the Church, are obligated to cast certain, pre-determined votes on select issues. Put another way, does my Mormonism require me to vote in favor of all manner of local referendum banning homosexual marriage? If so, how far does this unwritten rule go? And what about my free agency?

Years ago, I taught an Elders’ Quorum lesson about our duties as good citizens (of the U.S.; I have no idea whether this lesson was/is taught internationally). One of the main points, reinforced in the manual by several quotes from General Authorities, was that we, as faithful Latter Day Saints, have an obligation to vote our consciences. The lesson was clear that the Church does not endorse any particular candidate, but that we each have a responsibility to do our part by casting a vote on election day. We talked about this idea – using our free agency as part of the election process – at some length. In the course of that discussion, an attendee, a faithful, conservative “Peter Priesthood” type in the ward, made a comment that has always stuck with me. He said, in essence, that active Mormons “have to” vote certain ways on “some specific issues.” Though I prodded, he refused to provide any further clarification. However, given current events, it wasn’t too difficult to figure out what he meant.

This was Southern California, circa 2000, and we were all in the throes of a pitched battle over Proposition 22 (aka the California Defense of Marriage Act) which sought to revise California law, which already explicitly prohibited same-sex marriage, to close a purported loophole which would have required California to recognize such marriages performed in other states (read: Massachusetts). Prop. 22 added the following sentence to the books: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Strikingly similar to the political climate of the last few weeks, seemingly every other local news broadcast and L.A. Times article dealt with the potential social and moral implications of allowing homosexuals to marry.

I don’t recall all of the hoopla over the ERA, so the level of Church involvement in this fight was new to me. We regularly heard sermons about the matter from over the pulpit and in classes. Some members of the ward were formally called by the Bishop to play an active role in campaigning for Prop. 22. While I never got such a call, I and many other Priesthood holders were assigned neighborhoods to canvas. We were to pass out literature and gauge public opinion about the Proposition. This was, without question, the most uncomfortable Church assignment I have ever fulfilled (although choking down chicken feet in the wilds of Guatemala comes in a close second). To begin, I am opposed to a too-easy mixture of religion and politics. Even worse, this particular issue put me in league with folks with whom I have very little else in common, politically speaking. For example, we were enthusiastically greeted by one older woman who said she not only supported Prop. 22, but also she always donates money to right-minded politicians such as Bob “B-52” Dornan. I think I physically cringed.

Thanks to the California Supreme Court, Prop. 22 has gone the way of the dodo, and same-sex marriage is set to become a reality here in a matter of weeks. But the fighting has not stopped yet, with opponents hoping to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in November. I know this because (i) twice in the past several weeks, people have stopped me in the halls at Church to ask that I sign a petition, and (ii) I have received several e-mail blasts from ward members attaching another petition begging me to “help save traditional marriage.” That means that, in all likelihood, I soon will have a chance to “vote my conscience” about this issue in a state-wide election.

All this has me thinking about what role my Mormonism has in determining how I vote. My spirituality necessarily affects my world view and therefore will impact, to some degree, the manner in which I view political issues. That’s not what I’m talking about. The question is, was the class member right all those years ago? To put a finer point on it, does my membership in the Church compel me and every other California Mormon to vote for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, regardless of how we/I personally feel about the issue? My initial reaction is “no” — we all have free agency and my temple recommend has never been conditional upon a favorable review of my voting record. But on the other hand, if my vote is not required/assumed, why does the Church go to such great lengths to get me and other members involved in the political fight?  If I am free to vote contrary to the Church’s position, why do my Priesthood leaders have authority to call me to a position designed specifically to push the official agenda?

Of course, same-sex marriage is just one issue that raises this question. Here are three more where a Mormon’s vote arguably could be determined solely on the basis of his/her faith:

 

 

 

  • Medical marijuana: In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, known as the Compassionate Use Act, which permits the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Since then, other Western states have followed suit.
  • Legalization of marijuana: For many folks, this is the logical extension of the medical marijuana debate. California is certainly headed in this direction. In 2000, California voters passed Prop. 36, which changed state law to allow first- and second-time nonviolent, simple drug possession offenders the opportunity to receive substance abuse treatment instead of incarceration. In other words, possession is now treated as a sickness, not a crime.
  • Limits on abortion rights: Thankfully, this is not one that I have to vote on, but members in other states have. In the constant back-and-forth since Roe v. Wade, nearly every state in the U.S. has passed restrictions on abortion rights, ranging from bans on partial-birth abortions to parental consent laws. Pro-life camps are constantly pushing for putting further restrictions in place through proposition or referendum. And just as surely, pro-choice advocates are engaged in high-energy opposition to those movements.

All of these issues are likely be on your local ballot sooner rather than later.  I am opposed to SSM, but in other instances, I find myself running contrary to the assumed “correct” position for LDS folks. For example, the older I get and the more I read about the increasing levels of incarceration in this country, the more persuaded I am that we should decriminalize possession of small quantities of marijuana (or, at a minimum, drastically reduce the tax money and man hours spent in arresting, prosecuting and detaining small-time users).

At the end of the day, I believe that I can vote however I want on these and any other issue. But, as I was shown in that EQ lesson many years ago, this is not a unanimous opinion. So, what do you think — are faithful Mormons required to vote en masse on certain issues? If so, how does one go about determining which issues those are, and what are/should be the consequences for failing to fall in line? If not, should a pro-SSM member refuse a priesthood canvassing on the ground that he/she is politically opposed to the cause?

Comments

comments

Comments 42

  1. Oops, Shawn. I voted FOR Prop. 215 in 1996. I haven’t really been living in the state for the other votes you talk about.

    To your questions, yes, a pro-SSM Mormon should refuse a call to become politically involved against their conscience. I would refuse such a call if it conflicted with my conscience.

    BTW, the distinction between “political” and “moral” is fatuous. There is no such distinction. In the 1930s, the New Deal was a moral issue for Church leaders like Heber Grant. Now economic proposals are considered political, not moral. Sexuality and gambling are now the only moral issues left, not progressive taxation and the FDIC.

  2. Shawn,

    To put a finer point on it, does my membership in the Church compel me and every other California Mormon to vote for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, regardless of how we/I personally feel about the issue?

    The beautiful thing about the gospel of Jesus Christ is that no one is forced or compelled to do anything. Everything we do is out of choice. However, that said, when we are baptized into the church, we do take upon ourselves certain covenants (thusly limiting some of the options in our lives, while opening up new options). The question thus becomes, in this case, what covenants did you sign up for when you got baptized? What covenants did you sign up for in the Temple? Do they require of you the services some say you should be doing?

  3. “Put another way, does my Mormonism require me to vote in favor of all manner of local referendum banning homosexual marriage?”

    Nope.

    Legislation is not moral law. I have seen incredibly stupid legislation (and even more that simply is poorly written) that, if written differently, might have received my support. Each piece of legislation needs to be considered very carefully, then each member needs to vote “according to the dictates of their own conscience”.

  4. BTW, I know it was routine in may wards and stakes in CA, but the organized push to defeat a referendum that initiated through the Bishop’s office and included callings – I will never support that type of effort.

    At least, I don’t think I will. 🙂

  5. You may recall that about six months ago a member of the church’s orchestra at Temple Square named Peter Danzig wrote a letter to the editor in the Salt Lake Tribune in support of gay marriage. Danzig ended up being removed from the orchestra against his will and was eventually hounded out of the church. There was some press coverage. In response, the church took the unusual step of commenting publicly about an individual.

    One of the things the church included in its official press release about Danzig was a flat denial that it had ever asked its members to support anti-gay amendments and ballot measures. The exact language of the press release (found on lds.org) is this:

    In reality Church leaders had asked members to write to their senators with their personal views regarding the federal amendment opposing same gender marriage, and did not request support or opposition to the amendment.

    So, to answer your question, the LDS Church officially denies that it ever asked you to oppose gay marriage. It claims that it simply asked you to participate in the political process and to voice your opinion, whatever that opinion may have been.

    If you ever don’t want to vote the way the church is telling you to, the press release about the Danzig matter can back you up.

  6. One more comment: I am going to predict that the church’s political involvement in the California marriage issue will be much less than it was back in 2000.

    The church’s official statement about the California court ruling says:

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes that same-sex marriage can be an emotional and divisive issue.

    I think this reflects pushback that the church has received from members. Younger members of the church are not on the same page as the older folks with respect to the gay marriage issue.

    In addition, Monson is a lot less political than Hinckley. The change of leadership may also have an effect.

    I know your post is about politics in general (and not just the marriage debate), but I think watching what the the church does with marriage in 2008 may be an indication of how it will proceed on other issues.

  7. The Church is not, and has never been, politically neutral. It simply declares its preferred politics to be “moral,” and the rest to be “political.”

    That said, absolute neutrality is probably impossible, (and in some cases probably not desireable). I just wish it would dispense with the clever word games and call a spade a spade.

  8. Matt (#7). Unfortunately the church cannot simply “dispense with the clever word games”, however much I rather suspect that some of the leadership would dearly love to. What you must keep in mind is that should the church become overtly embroiled in politics, it will eventually lose its status as a nonprofit organization or a religious organization. There are a LOT of folks out there that would love to see the LDS church make a move that would make it possible for the fed to tax the church’s incomes and holdings because it would severely hinder the work we do. The church must maintain a stance of political neutrality in terms of saying “all church members are free to vote for whomever they wish”. There are a number of other things they must do in order to remain absolutely a tax-exempt organization (and I’m not familiar with even a significant fraction of them), but we as members would do well to keep this in mind.

    So the church leaders couch things in language designed to convey intent without sounding like a command (which might also be a reason for softer language and less of the ‘thou shalt’ type stuff than was formerly common).

    Now if a Bishop is enacting a program that you feel is inappropriately asking you to become politically involved against your conscience, then you have no responsibility to do so. You can simply beg off. I wouldn’t be dishonest, but neither would I be anxiously forthcoming (“Why no Bishop, I won’t help distribute these evil Satanic flyers of yours designed to help a repressive conservative philosopophy!” probably isn’t a good way to go).

  9. But Ben,

    You are advocating a letter of the law philosophy here, right? Shouldn’t the church actually be as neutral as possible, not just neutral enough to preserve tax-exempt status?

  10. I vote my conscience, end of story. And I do see a big distinction between legislation and the moral choices of individuals. My own views are socially libertarian. I don’t care to legislate morality. Protect people’s basic rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, and let them pursue that happiness how they will so long as they don’t infringe on others’ rights.

    The Danzig case was interesting, IMO, because the Danzigs (and possibly their local leaders) assumed that the church was telling them how to vote; they missed the neutrality in the instruction. As someone explained to me, the church takes a stand on issues, not parties. But even on issues that come to referendum, individuals must vote their conscience, not as a bloc. If anyone in a leadership position is advocating something other than neutrality, they should be corrected and then ignored, IMO.

  11. Re #12 (hawkgrrrl)– Unfortunately, the kind of organized advocacy that the church conducted in California in 2000 and nationwide in 2006 far exceeded a simple exhortation to get involved and vote your conscience.

    I’m glad you’re willing to push back when a church leader tells you how to vote or asks you to join a particular political campaign. I’ve heard from a lot of people in California that they regret their church-sponsored involvement in the 2000 ballot measure and they plan to (politely) say no if the church asks them this year to campaign for the proposed constitutional amendment.

  12. I’d drop abortion from your list. The Church (contrary to the belief of many members, I’ve found) has never taken a position on the political issues relating to abortion. Indeed, the Church’s moral position is inconsistent with the positions advocated by most true Pro-Life groups that I know of.

    But I’d add gambling — largely because I’ve been involved three times in the last 10 years in anti-gambling efforts with explicit church blessing.

  13. I also vote my conscience whenever possible. I’m just glad I moved out of California so I no longer have to worry about some of the dumb laws that get put on the ballot. Having said that, there is some goofy “right to conception” initiative coming up here in Colorado this fall.

    I also make it a point to make smart aleck remarks when the guys in priesthood make their pro-republican comments.

  14. I loved California in the 1960’s. What a great place! I don’t recall being aware of any major problems until the Watt’s riots. Then in the early 1970’s the “girlie guys” wanted to sell California beauty in the buff. As I recall they wanted to sell racy newspapers in newspaper machines that were located on nearly every block in the business districts. Senator John Harmer drafted proposition 18 to combat racy newspapers and a host of other approaches by the porno crowd. The church ask members to help. We did, in a big way, proposition 18 got on the ballot when most observers didn’t think we could do it due to time restrains. We got a late start. I was at UCLA and observed for the first time how divisive political issue can be among church members. I remember being at a Ward meeting when the intellectuals cried that it was unconstitutional to restrict freedom of expression and they wondered out loud what was wrong with Pres Smith. Church members got prop 18 on the ballot due to the efforts of faithful Saints in areas away from the university communities. It got voted down in Nov like 2 or 3 to 1. Now look at how things are in the porno business in Calif and everywhere else.

    Here is a quote from Time magazine dated Oct 23, 1972:

    As drafted by State Senator John Harmer, a Mormon and a Republican, Proposition 18 leaves no doubt as to what is considered obscene: any display in public of adult genitals, buttocks or female nipples; any explicit show of “sexual excitement,” “sexual conduct” or “sadomasochistic abuse.” Obscene words may not be used if they are descriptive, only if they are exclamations of shock or anger. Thus the dialogue of Andy Warhol movies would be forbidden, but George C. Scott could get away with his expletives in Patton.

    Printed matter without pictures is left alone, but even that is vulnerable to attack. As sweeping as the initiative is, it also allows local communities to add to the law if they want to. Private citizens, if they are so inclined, are permitted to make citizen’s arrests of pornographers and confiscate materials, though they face the risk of a civil suit if they go too far. An aide to Senator Harmer explains: “As a practical matter, we think the initiative covers everything. But we want to protect people five or ten years down the line. We don’t know what the creative pornographers might think up.”

    Not just pornographers are objecting to the proposition. Most newspaper and TV stations are against it; they make the point that just about any publication could be banned or confiscated these days under the harsh terms of the proposed law. One innocent nipple could cost a publisher dearly. Theater owners and movie distributors have mounted a campaign to defeat the initiative. Even such stalwarts as John Wayne have been enlisted to appear on TV spots. Certainly no pornography addict, Wayne feels that the proposition would ban the good with the bad, including his own film True Grit. On the other side, law-enforcement agencies are supporting the initiative. So is Mr. Clean, Pat Boone, who will host a gala at Disneyland later this month to raise money for the proposition.

    Here is a link to the entire article for those interested: http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,878044,00.html

  15. Of course you don’t HAVE to vote how you think the church wants you to. You don’t HAVE to do anything that the church tells you to do.

    The church does comes across as telling people how to vote, though. When there is a letter from the area presidency that says, “There is a local election coming up on moral issue XYZ, please go out and vote”, many people take that to mean that you are being asked to vote for side of the issue that the Church is on (or seems to be on). Its simply implied in the instruction (at least in most people’s minds).

    In everything we do, we depend on implied information. If you want to be legalistic about it, you can always say that the church didn’t EXPLICITLY mention which way you had to vote. This sort of thinking, though, just isn’t very practical. For example, on my mission, if my mission president asked how many people I had baptized this month, it is implied that he is asking how many live people I baptized into the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The 3 people that I baptized into the JW’s and the 132 dead people that I was baptized for in the temple simply don’t count.

  16. Bill – the church’s position is not neutral on issues; just their instructions are. The majority of members will tend to vote the same direction as the church’s position; like-minded individuals tend to vote similarly. When the church encourages members to vote their conscience on an issue, the odds are in favor that this request will have a positive impact toward the church’s desired ends (it’s a safe gamble). But that isn’t the same as dictating how members vote or attempting to activate toward a specific position. There is far more political activism in other churches.

  17. But that isn’t the same as dictating how members vote or attempting to activate toward a specific position.

    From a legal standpoint, you are correct. From a practical standpoint, however, I have to completely disagree. The PR department’s public denial in the Danzig case, for example, was in a very legalistic sense true, but was it an honest statement? No, it wasn’t. The entire affair was done with an implied wink and a nudge. It was obvious to LDS members that the First Presidency wanted LDS members to contact their senators in support of the proposed amendment, despite the fact that the precise wording provided legal ambiguity in order to avoid the charge of actually telling LDS members how to “vote.” Many of those LDS members who disagreed with the position wrote their senators to oppose the amendment, but felt the need to defensively point out the legal ambiguity in the First Presidency statement, in order to justify their choice to themselves and others, because they understood that the actual intent of the letter was to direct support for the amendment. They could find an intentional loophole in the letter, but in the end, they felt a degree of awkwardness in acting against what they knew in their hearts was the intent of the First Presidency.

    Of course, if you can point to a single individual who was thanked by a member of the First Presidency for contacting their senator in opposition to the proposed amendment, I’ll gladly consider myself refuted.

  18. #19:
    The fact that some faiths are more explicit in urging a particular political stand really doesn’t refute the fact that the LDS church does the same thing. There are two reasons for the “subtelty” of LDS directives in this regard. First, they’re being careful to avoid challenges against their non-profit status. Second (and more importantly, really), they are avoiding the late 19th century image of a Mormon theocracy, wherein the American public absolutely believed (and often rightly so) that LDS leaders were telling members how to vote. Mormon block voting was a big motivator for the opposition faced by the LDS church in Illinois, after all.

  19. Nick: “Of course, if you can point to a single individual who was thanked by a member of the First Presidency for contacting their senator in opposition to the proposed amendment, I’ll gladly consider myself refuted.” I can’t point to anyone who was thanked on either side of this one because that would be an admission from the church that they encouraged members to take their own stance as a bloc.

    I agree with your comments on #21 about motivations. It’s not unclear what the church’s stance is, but I’m in that booth alone with my conscience. Many members may not make a mental distinction between morality and legislation, but for those of us who do there’s no problem in the church in voting your conscience. The “encouragement” bet still pays off; the house still always wins.

    The Danzigs were trying to make a point, IMO. A stupid point, since the church didn’t say what they said it did, even if they had a reasonable belief most church members would vote with the church’s stance. You don’t get kicked out of the church for voting differently than the majority. You get kicked out for picking public fights with the church. (Well, in their case anyway).

  20. It’s not unclear what the [LDS] church’s stance is, but I’m in that booth alone with my conscience. Many members may not make a mental distinction between morality and legislation, but for those of us who do there’s no problem in the church in voting your conscience.

    Absolutely, so long as the LDS church avoids the kind of strongarm tactics which they used on LDS members in the Prop 22 election. I think they’re unlikely to ever go that far again, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the experience of Stuart Matis.

  21. Well, I come from the position that God has every right to make his political wishes known. The neutrality of the Church in politics is left over from the time of persecution when the Church needed to stay out of the federal government’s gunsights.

    This does not change the fact that Mormon bloc voting is perfectly constitutional and that it’s suppression was one of many unconstitutional attacks on the Church.

    Nor is this limited to God’s church in my view.

    Churches should have no limitation on their freedom of political speech. Churches have regularly participated in American politics throughout history. From the civil rights movement, to supporting pacifism, to the Civil War, and even all the way back to the Revolution. The Revolution would never have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for the republican tendencies among the Puritans, (dating back to Cromwell and the English Revolution). Which is one of many reasons New England was all hot for independence and the South was not.

    This idea that churches have no business in politics is a relatively new one. The way I see it it is being promoted by irreligious folks in the hopes of shutting religious people up. I don’t care for that.

    I would oppose any attempt to prevent non-religious organizations from exercising their freedom of political speech. Why do religious organization get less rights then other associations? The freedom of speech used to be understood to be at it’s most precious in protecting political speech, requiring the maximum amount of leeway possible. Now freedom of speech is taken to prevent censorship of pornography, while restrictions on political speech are continually increasing.

    There is alot of fuzzy headed thinking about freedom of speech nowadays, that’s for sure.

    The free agency argument is spurious. Your free agency is to support or reject the Church’s position. Arguing that the Church taking a position impacts your agency is like the teenager who complaints that commandments remove his free agency.

    As for the issue of compelling people to vote a certain way, well, I don’t think there are any present issues that would be grounds for church disciplinary action. Nor have I ever seen any Bishop attempt to discipline someone over voting habits. Have you?

    I can imagine there might be some issue that could rise to that level. For example, If lived back in Missouri in the days of Far West and decided to start a “Mormons for Boggs” political action committee, I think the Church would have legitimate grounds to excommunicate you. However, I don’t see even the smallest hint that any of that is considered for any of today’s currently debated topics.

    I suspect that your “Peter Priesthood type” was trying to point out is that our church membership [i]obligates[/i] us to vote a specific way. This is self-evident.

    First is the obvious, if the leadership of the church over the pulpit tells us to vote a certain way, we are obligated to sustain our leaders. Now that doesn’t mean there’s any penalty if we fail to do so.

    Might I point out at least two instances in which the church membership as a body rejected political instruction from their leaders?

    1: Prohibition- which is probably the most famous incident. It is hard to be certain how America would have developed if alcohol was illegal.

    2: Social Secirity- President Grant spoke out strongly against it, saying that the money would be taken and used for other government programs leaving the government with a bunch of unfunded debts that would burden the grandchildren.

    Hmmm… maybe we should have listened on that last one.

    However, your Peter Priesthood fellow might have been addressing the broader issue, that our church membership obligates us to approach legislation with a view of reconciling it with our religious beliefs.

    For example, a Catholic is obligated by his religion to oppose abortion in all forms and support making abortion illegal. If he doesn’t he is a bad Catholic.

    How can I say this? Simple. Catholicism articulates as a matter of doctrine that life begins at conception. Therefor, a Catholic supporting abortion rights must be either rejecting that doctrine- making him a heretic, or doesn’t care, which means he is consenting to murder for political gain. Either way he’s a bad Catholic.

    Mormon doctrine on the beginning of mortal life is not so clear, which is why support for stem cell research is possible by faithful Mormons. Motive becomes an important issue.

    Similarly, issues such a marijuana legalization are not clearing supported or opposed by Mormon doctrine. Obviously support legalization of marijuana because you think marijuana is harmless would violate your obligations as a member of the Church. However, supporting legalization on the grounds that the harm caused by the criminalization of marijuana use is greater then that caused when it is legal would not violate your obligations.

    Although if the church leadership can out in opposition to legalization it would obligate you to reconsider your support.

    These obligations are the natural outcome of belonging to any organization. When the organization you belong to is run by God, not just based on man’s interpretation of old scripture, but on the basis of direct revelation, that obligation only becomes strong.

    Attempting to avoid these obligations is a rejection of some of the defining characteristics of Mormonism- which includes being highly centralized and obedient to God’s prophets. Consider any of the things required of the early saints by church leadership and quite frankly I think voting falls quite low on the controlling nature of the requests. Good grief, Brigham Young would tell people where to live. Surely that is more central to a person’s independence then a recommendation on how to vote.

    Far too many of us whine about the inappropriate nature of requests from the Brethren, complaining that the Church doesn’t have the right to make requests in this or that area of life. I remind you- God asks for us to give him everything. I don’t remember the part where He said: “Everything, except your vote”.

  22. Great Post Shawn. I think you raise good points which beg interesting questions. I think that the church should be morally active rather than politically active. For example, our church should support candidates that endorses peace, human rights, and civil liberties.

    I wish that they would go back to endorsing cooperatives and speaking out against massive wealth in a few hands like they did in 1875 and earlier. But I dont think they will.

    I would like to see them talk about how as latter day saints we can stop human rights abuses and genocide but I think even that would get them into trouble with the US government considering its endorsement of genocide over the last 40 years and its clandestine involvement in selling drugs to its own people.

  23. Post
    Author

    This just in . . .

    California has certified the voter initiative re: a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage. It will be on the November ballot for sure.

  24. #24:
    This does not change the fact that Mormon bloc voting is perfectly constitutional

    As the person who brought up the term “Mormon block voting,” I’d point out that I never said it was unconstitutional. You’re setting up a straw horse on that one, Cicero.

    and that it’s suppression was one of many unconstitutional attacks on the [LDS?] Church.

    Exactly what was unconstitutional about the mob actions in Illinois, Cicero? I’m the first one to agree that the actions of the mob were immoral and illegal, but unless the mob were acting specifically as agents of the government, their conduct was not unconstitutional. The Bill of Rights protects us against government interference, not interference by private citizens.

    Churches should have no limitation on their freedom of political speech. Churches have regularly participated in American politics throughout history. From the civil rights movement, to supporting pacifism, to the Civil War, and even all the way back to the Revolution.

    Yes, many churches in the United States fought vociferously to defend the practice of slavery and oppose the recognition of civil equality for persons of African descent.

    This idea that churches have no business in politics is a relatively new one. The way I see it it is being promoted by irreligious folks in the hopes of shutting religious people up. I don’t care for that.

    Nor should you, Cicero. I don’t for a moment tolerate the idea that religious persons should be abridged in their rights to free speech. Of course, if religious persons act as agents of the government, they need to carefully distinguish between their official vs. private words and acts. It is unfortunate that some religious persons have difficulty drawing this distinction, and then cry “persecution” or “attack on faith” when their fellow citizens object to the imposition of a particular religious dogma on the wider populace.

    Why do religious organization get less rights then other associations?

    This is a good question, Cicero, and I think it largely goes back to the distrust which early Americans felt toward the churches of their day. When churches were bound up with the government (and mind you, they continued to be in many parts of the United States until the 14th Amendment was passed), they often managed to oppress those who did not share their beliefs. The family of Joseph Smith Sr., for example, was subject to such oppression, and was forced on more than one occasion to file formal declarations of protest against the majority religious views of their community, in order to avoid paying taxes for the support of the local majority church. In more modern times, we hear a great deal of the abuses heaped upon the people of Middle Eastern nations where governments operate under the dictates of religion. We criticize it, primarily because we don’t share their religion, and yet there are certain religious people in the United States who would like to see their own faith weild similar power and authority in the government of the United States (Mike Huckabee, for example, who wants the Constitution re-written to reflect his version of christianity). In a pluralistic society such as ours, the political activity of religious groups is given due bounds, so as to avoid undesireable outcomes.

    Now freedom of speech is taken to prevent censorship of pornography, while restrictions on political speech are continually increasing.

    If we wish to protect the rights of 19 year old LDS missionaries to proselyte in public, we must likewise protect the rights of pornographers. The moment we endeavor to restrict the rights of others to do what we don’t approve of, we endanger our own right to do those things we do approve of.

    As for the issue of compelling people to vote a certain way, well, I don’t think there are any present issues that would be grounds for church disciplinary action. Nor have I ever seen any Bishop attempt to discipline someone over voting habits. Have you?

    Oddly enough, that would be extremely difficult, given that the Doctrine and Covenants forbids finding a person guilty in a disciplinary council, absent the testimony of “two or three” witnesses. The only witness in a voting booth is the voter.

    However, your Peter Priesthood fellow might have been addressing the broader issue, that our church membership obligates us to approach legislation with a view of reconciling it with our religious beliefs.

    Joseph Smith did not seem to agree with you on this. Rather, he signed an ordinance in the city of Nauvoo to prohibit persecution or discrimination against anyone on the basis of their religious beliefs. Rather than attempt to force his own doctrine on non-Mormons, he sought to protect all citizens’ freedom of conscience. Joseph was wise enough to know that by protecting the rights of all, he protected the rights of his own people.

    Catholicism articulates as a matter of doctrine that life begins at conception. Therefor, a Catholic supporting abortion rights must be either rejecting that doctrine- making him a heretic, or doesn’t care, which means he is consenting to murder for political gain. Either way he’s a bad Catholic.

    He or she may be a “bad Catholic.” On the other hand, he or she may believe in the Constitution of the United States, and understand that in a pluralistic society such as ours, it is often unjust to seek to legislatively impose a particular religious dogma upon the wider populace. To say otherwise, Cicero, is in fact to disagree with the First Presidency of the LDS church, who have made quite a point of saying that elected officials are not under obligation to legislate in favor of LDS political statements.

    Obviously support legalization of marijuana because you think marijuana is harmless would violate your obligations as a member of the [LDS?] Church.

    How would this violate one’s obligations as a member of the LDS church, Cicero?

    However, supporting legalization on the grounds that the harm caused by the criminalization of marijuana use is greater then that caused when it is legal would not violate your obligations.

    Why would this not violate one’s obligations as a member of the LDS church, Cicero? I don’t think you’re being consistent.

    Although if the church leadership can out in opposition to legalization it would obligate you to reconsider your support.

    Why would it “obligate” such a thing, Cicero, when the First Presidency has said just the opposite? Don’t you believe the First Presidency?

    When the organization you belong to is run by God, not just based on man’s interpretation of old scripture, but on the basis of direct revelation, that obligation only becomes strong.

    That’s just great, Cicero. We have many thousands of religious groups in this nation, many of which happen to believe their groups are “run by” deity. Sounds to me like you’re gunning for anarchy.

    Attempting to avoid these obligations is a rejection of some of the defining characteristics of Mormonism…

    For any faithful member of the modern LDS church to cry out regarding “rejection of some of the defining characteristics of Mormonism” is truly ironic.

  25. Nick, I really don’t care what apostates like you have to say.

    Your attacks on my position is so full of misrepresentation of clear meaning of my words that no response is necessary.

  26. Once a moral issue enters the political arena, it no longer is just a moral issue. It becomes a political issue, subject to different forces and obligations and stresses and interpretations ad infinitum than when it was “just” a moral issue. This is not the thread for it, but abortion is a perfect example of this. How I feel about it as a strictly “personal moral issue” varies radically from how I feel about it as a political, legal issue. That’s a post I’d like to write, but I don’t want to mess with the knee-jerk reactions it would cause – from BOTH sides.

    That’s the core reason why the Church can and should comment on moral issues while not attempting to dictate political action.

  27. #24 Cicero said: Social Security- President Grant spoke out strongly against it, saying that the money would be taken and used for other government programs leaving the government with a bunch of unfunded debts that would burden the grandchildren.

    Cicero–if you have a link to this material I would love to read it. I didn’t know he took a position on Social Security. Thanks in advance.

  28. I agree with Ray that there is a distinction between political or legislative issues and moral imperatives. And Ray, if you want to post on abortion, let ‘er rip. No need to shy away from the line of fire.

    Cicero, I agree with you that members have an obligation to consider our own faith and moral compass in evaluating our voting decisions. That’s about as far as I can go. If Nick has misunderstood you, I don’t see where. It looks to me like he understood you perfectly and disagrees with your key points. To me, it looks like you are the author of most of the uber-conservative spam emails my dad likes to forward about how we should have prayer in schools and not provide any non-English documents.

    I echo Nick’s concerns about this statement: “This idea that churches have no business in politics is a relatively new one”; about as new as democracy, BTW. The founding fathers did not vote based on their religious affiliations; most were what we would call “agnostic” (“deists” to them). If you want to skip backwards from them to the theocracies and monarchies, be my guest, but I don’t see how that makes your point. “The way I see it it is being promoted by irreligious folks in the hopes of shutting religious people up.” If you think bloc voting by religious parties is such a great idea, what happens when that bloc voting is turned against us by anti-Mormon evangelicals who outnumber us in the extreme? BTW, that happened. This year. Whatever you think of Romney’s flaws (which were certainly a contributing factor to his loss), there were many many active evangelical voting blocs specifically decrying “down with the Mormon” and “we will never ever vote for a Mormon” out there. Religious bloc voting always polarizes. Unless we want to have a different political party for each religious group, then vocal religious groups can highjack political parties toward their own aims and against those groups they don’t like (for example, heretics like us). I wish this were theoretical, but it’s all too real. Live by the sword and die by the sword, I’m afraid.

  29. I really enjoyed this post. It brings up something that I’ve thought a lot about lately. I myself am rather liberal by the typical “mormon” standards. I swing left on almost everything… but there are exceptions like their are with everyone. My parents on the other hand are relatively (and by relatively I mean extreamly 😉 conservative. Everytime I go home it seems like we’re in a debate about the 08′ election or capital punishment. My dad and I typically argue until my mother intervenes with some comment on the church’s view and its pretty much “touche” everytime. What can I say? I think the church is wrong? I’d be worried that my temple reccommend might just burn up in my wallet by divine intervention. Usually my dad says at the end, “We’ll just have to simply agree to dissagree.” And I think this applies here. Sometimes your going to dissgree with things. Its not the first time people have disagreed with the church. That being said let me cover my tracks a little bit. This doesn’t mean that we should nor do we have the right to dissagree with the church on any matter. I think we have the option to choose for ouselves when the church makes no clear statement on certain issues. Its no longer a question of what’s right and wrong, but what you believe personnally to be morally best option.

  30. C’mon, Hope. Call your Mom on it. I’ve found that in political discussions with family members who play the religion card, it can be very liberating to just go for it, burning recommend or not.

  31. #30:
    Once a moral issue enters the political arena, it no longer is just a moral issue. It becomes a political issue, subject to different forces and obligations and stresses and interpretations ad infinitum than when it was “just” a moral issue.

    Ray, you’ve just brilliantly stated something I’ve believed, but struggled to find a way to clearly express. I’ve often tried to explain to my LDS friends that I have no issue with the LDS church holding their current opinion regarding the morality of homosexual relations–in fact, I’d fight to defend their right to express that moral opinion. At the same time, however, I will vigorously object when they attempt to codify that moral opinion into civil legislation, in a way that affects the rights and obligations of those outside their faith, who happen to differ strongly in terms of the underlying moral opinion.

    We’ve had other discussions in the bloggernacle about the distinction between “moral” vs. “political” issues, in light of the distinction made in LDS policy statements. We’ve all struggled to fully grasp where that division falls, ultimately coming up with “an issue is moral if the First Presidency decides that it’s a moral issue,” which isn’t very satisfying. I think you’ve made the matter very simple here, in a way that comprehends the frustrations that both sides sometimes experience. Well done!!

  32. #34:
    Sometimes your going to dissgree with things. Its not the first time people have disagreed with the church. That being said let me cover my tracks a little bit. This doesn’t mean that we should nor do we have the right to dissagree with the church on any matter. I think we have the option to choose for ouselves when the church makes no clear statement on certain issues.

    Sometimes, I think one can completely agree on a moral position, but disagree on the vehicle by which that moral position should be promoted. Take abortion for example. I happen to find abortion for the purpose of birth control to be morally reprehensible in the vast majority of cases (one can always find an “extreme” exception to such things). My moral views on the issue happen to track very closely to the official moral stance of the LDS church on this issue. At the same time, however, I find the idea of the government making such an intensely personal decision to be morally (politically, Ray?) reprehensible. When I was an active member of the LDS church, some of my fellow church members found my political view on the matter completely incomprehensible. Many members of other christian faiths would find my view (and they happen to find the position of the LDS church on the issue) entirely intolerable and evil. Granted, abortion is not the ideal example, since the LDS church has expressly refused to take a position on any particular abortion-related legislation.

    The big example, of course, is marriage equality. I have seen many LDS members who accept the LDS church’s moral position with regard to homosexual relations, but who are deeply troubled by the political mechanism which the First Presidency has endorsed as a way to act on that moral position. It seems to me that there is a certain level of tolerance (at least officially, if not always socially) within the LDS church for disagreement on the appropriate political response to various moral issues.

  33. #33 – Hawkgrrrl, abortion is a polarizing issue, and to treat it it the way I would need to treat it in order to be comfortable doing so, it would be a pretty long post – particularly since I would prefer to use abortion as an example of the “moral” v. “political” question. Iow, the post would be about that question, not just abortion. If the admins would like to see what I would write, I can e-mail it. Just let me know via my personal e-mail address.

    #38 – Nick, that’s precisely what I mean. Civil rights for homosexuals, including marriage equality, is the second example I would use to draw the moral / political distinction. If I write a post, I probably would use both to make the point.

  34. “If we wish to protect the rights of 19 year old LDS missionaries to proselyte in public, we must likewise protect the rights of pornographers. The moment we endeavor to restrict the rights of others to do what we don’t approve of, we endanger our own right to do those things we do approve of.”

    I agreed with a lot of your reasoning, Nick, but this slippery slope type of argument about free speech is just wrong. The first amendment was NEVER meant to be an absolute right. The government has ALWAYS restricted speech. In fact, pornography is NOT protected by the first amendment. You’re a lawyer, right? You should know that (look up the Miller test on wikipedia if you’ve forgotten). I don’t think harsher restrictions on pornography would EVER lead to restrictions on religious speech–the first amendment has a separate protection of freedom of religion, remember?

  35. California has certified the voter initiative re: a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage. It will be on the November ballot for sure.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see a challenge to the amendment initiative in about two weeks when same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land in California. The summary attached to the proposed constitutional amendment reads in part, “The measure would have no fiscal effect on state or local governments. This is because there would be no change to the manner in which marriages are currently recognized by the state.”

    But that is no longer true. Certainly it won’t be in two weeks. So when the public signed the petition earlier in the year they were expecting no fiscal impact. And when the public votes in November, this summary will no longer be accurate. It is hard to say whether the law allows for the initiative description to be changed mid-stream.

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