LDS Church Can’t Hide Behind A Temple
This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin
November 8th, 2008
The Mormon church doesn’t like the attention it’s getting in the wake of California’s Prop 8. Church leaders released this statement yesterday:
It is disturbing that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being singled out for speaking up as part of its democratic right in a free election.
Members of the Church in California and millions of others from every faith, ethnicity and political affiliation who voted for Proposition 8 exercised the most sacrosanct and individual rights in the United States – that of free expression and voting.
While those who disagree with our position on Proposition 8 have the right to make their feelings known, it is wrong to target the Church and its sacred places of worship for being part of the democratic process.
Once again, we call on those involved in the debate over same-sex marriage to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility towards each other. No one on either side of the question should be vilified, harassed or subject to erroneous information.
Well, the Mormon leadership is right on their last sentence. If only they had heeded that advice during the campaign. Gay couples throughout the state were vilified, harassed and subject to dump truck loads of erroneous information during the campaign that the Mormon church itself played an enormous role in waging. There was no sense of civility during their campaign. Why should they not expect to reap the seeds that they sow?
The leadership of the LDS Church has their hand prints all over the campaigns in Arizona and California:
- We know Arizona state Senators who didn’t want to be present for the vote to place Prop 102 on the ballot, but were coerced and harassed by their bishops and other church members into cutting short their vacations to cast their vote.
- Once on the ballot in California and Arizona, we know that Mormon prophets called on their followers to give of their “time and means,” and that this call went out to all Mormons in California and Arizona, as well as in Utah.
- We also know that the Arizona anti-gay campaign was under the direct leadership of some of the most prominent LDS members in the state.
- By some estimates, more than $20 million of Mormon money went to fund the $36 million California campaign, while an additional estimated $3-7 million funded Arizona’s $8 million campaign.
One thing must be made clear: the leadership of the LDS church has every right to do this. Churches are barred by IRS regulations from endorsing political candidates, but they are fully free to participate in the political process on the issues — including ballot propositions. To claim otherwise would be to deny the LDS Church’s right to speak out on what it sees as important moral issues. It would also deny the rights of LDS members to fully participate in the democratic process.
But exercising those rights in the democratic process brings with it public scrutiny and criticism. That, too, is an integral part of the democratic process from which no one is exempt.
When the Mormon church chose to enter the political sphere, the fact that they are a religious institution became irrelevant. They led non-Mormons in their political campaign, and they exhorted everyone — regardless of their religious affiliation — to vote on amendments which affected everyone, Mormons and non-Mormons alike. This was a democratic political campaign, not a religious one. We were voting on constitutional amendments, not theology.
Mormon leaders were acting in their role as citizens in the democratic process, a role that they have every right to be proud of — at least from their particular point of view. After all, their political campaign was successful. I don’t like how it all turned out, but such is politics. There are always, by the nature of the beast, winners and losers. And their side won this time in the end.
But as citizens leading a political campaign, they cannot escape public accountability for their public actions, especially when their political actions were seen by many as dirty, degrading, dishonest, and most definitely un-Christian. After all that, the leadership of the LDS cannot suddenly change roles, toss up their hands and say, “You can’t criticize us! We’re a religion!” They forfeited that right when they threw themselves enthusiastically into a non-religious, political campaign. They forfeited that right when they left the temple and entered the world of Caesar. They are politicians now, and they deserve the same scrutiny and criticism due to any other political leader or movement.
It is not scapegoating to point out the facts, nor is it Mormon-bashing to criticize their agenda and tactics. This is all fair game in politics — politics which the Mormon church eagerly entered. Andrew Sullivan is right: gays and lesbians now have every right to regard the LDS leadership as their enemy. After all, gays didn’t wage a campaign to strip Mormons of their civil rights. It was the Mormon leaders who have successfully removed a civil right which had already been granted to gays and lesbians.
This is not bigotry or discrimination against a religion. It is criticism leveled against what is now seen as a powerful political organization. That is perfectly legitimate.
Welcome to the world of politics, LDS. There’s no hiding behind a temple now.
[Updated to attribute the final point to Andrew Sullivan.]