Mormon Policies on Politics and ConscienceBy: Guest
Most of the time, (we will get to Prop 8 – the big exception in a few paragraphs) the LDS church stays out of political
races and referendums, with only general statements on issues that relate to church doctrine. Church leaders do not tell members how to vote or ask for them to reveal how they voted. The only constant doctrine taught about the responsibility of church members consists of asking their members to be active citizens who intelligently vote their conscience. The official church statements about it come first in the Articles of Faith, and next in the Doctrine and Covenants and other official official church policies, contained in the Official Church handbook, Volume 2, which is now available online. (I will pull out the direct quotes, and the links, so that you can look for additional topics that are of interest to you.)
Articles of Faith 11 and 12 state:
“11. 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.
12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”
Doctrine and Covenants 58:19-22 elaborates on the basics in the Article of Faith when it says;
“19 For verily I say unto you, my law shall be kept on this land.
20 Let no man think he is ruler; but let God rule him that judgeth, according to the counsel of his own will, or, in other words, him that counseleth or sitteth upon the judgment seat.
21 Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land.
22 Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be, until he reigns whose right it is to reign, and subdues all enemies under his feet.”
Doctrine and Covenants 98: 7-10 elaborates further when it explains why good political leaders are important, and why being actively involved in choosing good leaders (when living in a place where citizens have the chance to be involved in choosing their leaders) is important, and keeping bad leaders from governing is a sacred responsibility.
“7 And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.
8 I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.
9 Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.
10 Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.”
This means that Mormons start with the foundational understanding that as members of the LDS church we all have an obligation to obey, honor and sustain the laws of the land, even when we don’t agree with specific political leader(s) or a particular law. We recognize many forms of government, not just democracies, as being viable and acceptable in the eyes of God. We may claim that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one true church, but we respect the right of others to believe and worship differently. We can share our religious belief’s, but every person on the earth has the right to believe or not believe in God. Every person has the right to worship in ways that are consistent to their beliefs, even if we do not understand, agree or approve of those religious practices.
The Official Church Handbook has several areas that speak about the responsibility of LDS members, in relation to their government, wherever in the world those members live. This is a sampling of the sections that are important within the framework of the current election.
“21.1.21 Income Taxes
Church members are obligated by the twelfth article of faith to obey the tax laws of the nation where they reside (see also D&C 134:5). Members who disapprove of tax laws may try to have them changed by legislation or constitutional amendment. Members who have well-founded legal objections may challenge tax laws in the courts.
Church members who refuse to file a tax return, pay required income taxes, or comply with a final judgment in a tax case are in direct conflict with the law and with the teachings of the Church. Such members may be ineligible for a temple recommend and should not be called to positions of principal responsibility in the Church. Members who are convicted of willfully violating tax laws are subject to Church discipline to the extent warranted by the circumstances.”
“21.1.23 Laws of the Land
Members should obey, honor, and sustain the laws in any country where they reside or travel (see D&C 58:21–22; Articles of Faith 1:12). This includes laws that prohibit proselyting.
“21.1.29 Political and Civic Activity
As citizens, Church members are encouraged to participate in political and governmental affairs, including involvement in the political party of their choice. Members are also urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families.
In accordance with the laws of their respective governments, members are encouraged to register to vote, to study issues and candidates carefully, and to vote for individuals whom they believe will act with integrity and sound judgment. Latter-day Saints have a special obligation to seek out, vote for, and uphold leaders who are honest, good, and wise (see D&C 98:10).
While affirming the right of expression on political and social issues, the Church is neutral regarding political parties, political platforms, and candidates for political office. The Church does not endorse any political party or candidate. Nor does it advise members how to vote. However, in some exceptional instances the Church will take a position on specific legislation, particularly when it concludes that moral issues are involved.
Only the First Presidency can speak for the Church or commit the Church to support or oppose specific legislation or to seek to intervene in judicial matters. Otherwise, stake presidents and other local leaders should not organize members to participate in political matters or attempt to influence how they participate.
Church members are encouraged to consider serving in elected or appointed public offices in local and national government. Candidates for public office should not imply that their candidacy is endorsed by the Church or its leaders. Church leaders and members should also avoid statements or conduct that might be interpreted as Church endorsement of any political party, platform, policy, or candidate.
Members are encouraged to support measures that strengthen the moral fabric of society, particularly those designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.
Church records, directories, and similar materials may not be used for political purposes.
Church facilities may not be used for political purposes. However, facilities may be used for voter registration or polling where there is not a reasonable alternative (see 21.2).”
(Emphasis in bold and underlined added to emphasize parts of the church policy that oftentimes are ignored by cultural Mormons.)
The Glaring Exception…Proposition 8
Recently, the very publicly noted exception to these clear guidelines was the California Proposition 8 fight, where the LDS church not only took a stand on the proposed legislation, but encouraged members, over the pulpit, in California and other states to donate time and money to the campaigns to defeat the effort to make same-sex marriages legal in California.
Mormons heeded the call and stepped up to devote huge amounts of time and energy to the efforts. One of my sisters lived in California at the time, and she spent time holding signs on overpasses and walking with her kids in demonstrations. Other LDS members donated personal money and money from their businesses. Outside of California, some Stakes did fund raising and political phone banks. There was a lot of focus in Utah and Idaho, as well as Arizona and other western states. I find no fault with LDS members who followed the call of the prophet, and chose to support Prop 8, in whatever way they chose to do so.
While there were many members who followed the requests of the church, there were also many members who did not. Barbara Young, wife of Steve Young, was a vocal critic of the LDS church’s involvement of Prop 8. Many members quietly refused to participate, while others were much more vocal in their opposition to the church’s involvement. Some members feel that the Prop 8 fight was a mistake. For other members, and many former members of the church, it was a moment of moral failure. I don’t pretend to know which choice was right, and especially for members who lived in California, people on all sides felt a huge amount of pressure over the legislation.
At the time, I certainly fell in the camp of those who did not agree with the church leadership’s choice to take a stance in the Prop 8 fight. I didn’t speak up at church, but outside of church, I was open with my opinions and support for gay rights as civil rights. For me, gay rights have very little to do with the sex life of gay individuals, which is what the church really has a position on. For me, gay rights as civil rights come down to making sure that no matter what choices we make in our private relationships, as long as those relationships are not illegal, that we should all have the protections under the law that anyone else has.
I may personally lean more towards the protections offered by civil unions to remedy the current legal inequality of status under the law. That said, I don’t think that I can tell someone else that their desire to use the word “marriage” to define their committed relationships impacts my legal rights, as a woman in a heterosexual marriage. I personally don’t feel that using the word marriage is required to have equal protection under the law, but if the word is worth fighting for, I am not going to make villains out of those in our society who want to fight for it. I just don’t see the need for *me* to take my fight beyond legal protection.
For me, I see any church as having the right to choose who it will accept as members with the full benefits of membership and who it will not. I do not think that those religious standards MUST be extended into law, and that most religious “laws” should be voluntarily entered into and followed, because a member of that church believes they are obeying God’s laws. I believe that when I obey God’s commandments, I will receive blessings and increased happiness. Consistent with the Articles of Faith, I claim the right to worship and submit to the laws of God, and offer that same choice to all of God’s children. Churches that interpret gay rights differently than I do fall within the framework of following the “dictates of their own conscience,” and I support their right to do so. In that way, I believe in having broader definitions for all of society, and more narrowly defined definitions for individual faith communities.
Certainly there will be an overlap between things that the laws of the land say are punishable and things that a particular church would discipline a member for doing. I believe that the punishment for those things that overlap should come through the laws and courts of the government, for those things that go beyond the laws of the land. I believe that when an action involves breaking civil laws and religious laws, the religious discipline should only be involved after civil decisions have been made by the courts of a civil government.
For me, the choice to submit to church authority or discipline should come as a choice of the person submitting to it. I believe that a church may say: you need to do *this* or you cannot be a member of our church, but in almost all cases, being cut off from the church, and the blessings and benefits of the church, should be the extent of the punishment meted out. For those things that are not illegal, but do go against religious laws, the consequences and restrictions that relate to those rules and covenants regarding church discipline, would be a matter for the church that a person belongs to. I believe that this view is in line with the church policies quoted above.
I have spent a significant amount of time on this post, and have gone through a number of drafts. I hope that I have been able to clearly delineate between those things that are taught as doctrine of the church, and my personal thoughts or opinions. Certainly my thoughts are informed by being a member of the LDS church — I was raised in it from birth. While many of my experiences with church leaders have been difficult, and at times very painful, I accept the authority of the Prophet and Apostles, and try to live my life in ways that follow the teachings of the prophets and the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. I have made many mistakes. I am simply Julia, a woman doing my best to follow the path Christ has laid out.
*For those of you who remember (or want to find out about) the Gay Trees and Gadianton Robbers post, this is the policy that was broken, when I was called about Republican Party activities. Because of this policy, members who are using the ward or stake directory in ways not covered by the policy often try to make another connection that would allow them to still use the directories, without officially breaking the policy. This comes up not just in the political arena, but also in business networking and marketing. Those misuses make this policy one that is referred to often in the LDS church.
Stake and ward directories may be published according to the following instructions: Names, addresses, and phone numbers may be included in a directory only if they are listed in a commercial telephone directory or, if they are unlisted, if the member gives permission. E-mail addresses may be included only with the member’s permission.
Stake or ward budget funds are used to pay for directories. Directories may not contain advertising.
Leaders should not distribute directories outside the stake or ward boundaries or permit their use for commercial or political purposes.
The beginning of each directory should include a statement that it is to be used only for Church purposes and should not be copied without permission of the bishop or stake president.”
**For all of you who have asked (or just wondered) about why I always include a statement that I do not speak for the LDS church, when I am blogging about LDS issues, is to be in compliance both in the letter and spirit of the law, so that there is no confusion between the things that are my opinion and official church doctrine (I am careful to make sure that I include direct quotes from official church sources, along with all of the links so that any reader can check and see if there are areas that are out of line with what the church has said.)
“21.1.22 Personal Internet Use
Members are encouraged to be examples of their faith at all times and in all places, including on the Internet. If they use blogs, social networks, and other Internet technologies, they are encouraged to strengthen others and help them become aware of that which is useful, good, and praiseworthy. When appropriate, members are encouraged to mention the Church and to link to and share approved Church materials.
When members use the Internet for purposes other than Church callings, they should understand that the message they give is personal. They should not give the impression that they represent or are sponsored by the Church.
Additional helps and guidelines are provided by searching for “Internet Usage Helps for Members” on LDS.org.”
In no way is this post meant to be an exhaustive study of the issues related to the LDS church and its policies regarding voting and elections. I am a member of the LDS faith but am not authorized to speak in any capacity for the LDS church.
**This is a guest post from Julia, cross-posted on poetrysansonions.com. This is the 8th post in the Mormon Moment series; the others may be found here at poetrysansonions. This goal of this series it to explain Mormon-y things to those who may be learning who Mormons are for the first time, but the Wheat & Tares editors believe these posts may be of interest to those already well familiar with Mormonism.